Household appliance-maker Dyson has announced it is accelerating plans to develop electric cars in Britain – with a £200 million investment in track-testing facilities at its new UK research centre.
The firm, which is branching out from its vacuum cleaners and hair driers to take on car giants with a new generation of high-tech electric vehicles, said the move would create ‘more high-skilled jobs for Britain’.
It is being viewed as another vote of confidence in the United Kingdom in the run up to Brexit next Spring.
Dyson is currently recruiting an additional 300 automotive engineers on top of the 400 already in place and has said the electric car project could see the firm’s present UK workforce nearly double to around 8,000.
The battery-powered electric cars are being designed and developed in the UK, however lower labour costs mean final assembly is likely to be in South East Asia where much of the firm’s wider electronic and hi-tech production already takes place.
Dyson confirmed it is seeking planning permission for ‘extensive vehicle testing facilities’ at the former World War 2 RAF base at Hullavington Airfield in Wiltshire – including ten miles of test track – as it embarks on the ‘next phase of electric vehicle development’.
The planning application for new second phase outlines 45,000 square metres of new development space to accommodate more than 2,000 people as well as a café, sports centre, recreation space and supporting technical facilities.
It will be accompanied by a £200 million investment for UK expansion.
The new 10-mile test track proposals includes a dynamic handling circuit to assess ride, steering and brakes, a vehicle stability dynamic platform for testing vehicle manoeuvrability and an off-road route for driving through soft and rugged terrains.
The proving ground will also have a hill and handling road route which simulates a challenging fast road with a range of corners and a section to test advanced driver assistance systems up to its maximum speed.
The premises will also have test slopes of differing gradients to check the powertrain of engines and gears.
As part of the £84 million first phase, Dyson has already converted two historic World War Two hangars into state-of-the-art engineering work spaces at the airfield.
They are home to 400 members of Dyson’s newly created automotive team who have now moved in, with a further three buildings on course for completion.
Founder Sir James Dyson announced in September last year that his firm had been working in secret over the previous three years on an electric vehicle which it intends now to put into production.
It is investing £2 billion in all ahead of the electric car’s launch in 2021.
Sir James said his aim was to ‘dominate’ the emerging electric car market by taking on America’s Tesla and traditional car makers like Jaguar Land Rover who are creating their own battery powered vehicles.
He stressed the new car would be ‘radical, upmarket, high-tech and cutting edge’, clarifying: ’It won’t be a Nissan Leaf.’
He added at the time: ’We will lead the development for high value jobs in the UK. These cars will be British exports. The know-how and development is here.’
A spokesman said: ’The project builds on Dyson’s existing expertise in solid state batteries, motors, vision systems, robotics, air conditioning and aerodynamics. It represents an ambitious project on tight timelines.’
Global technology company Dyson currently employs 4,800 people in the UK – a 2.5 times increase over the last five years.
It employs 12,000 globally – including 4,500 engineers and scientists – with engineering and testing operations in Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and the UK.
Dyson chief executive officer Jim Rowan said: ‘Our growing automotive team is now working from Dyson’s state-of-the-art hangars at Hullavington Airfield.
‘It will quickly become a world-class vehicle testing campus where we hope to invest £200m, creating more high-skilled jobs for Britain.
‘We are now firmly focused on the next stage of our automotive project strengthening our credentials as a global research and development organisation.’
Dyson’s wider interests include development of solid state battery cells, high-speed electric motors, vision systems, machine learning technologies, and Artificial Intelligence (AI).
The firm’s 67-acre campus in Malmesbury, Wiltshire, is also home to the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology, which opened in September 2017 and the firm is making a £31m investment into UK higher education with a funded four-year degree programme to help overcome the shortage of engineers in the UK.