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British appliance inventor Dyson sets out to make electric cars

Sir James Dyson has made a $4.5 billion fortune with future-forward home appliances, such as his bagless battery-powered vacuum cleaner or blade-free fan. But the British billionaire announced this week that he plans to put $2.7 billion into a whole other kind of battery-operated product: an emissions-free car.

Dyson said that he has gathered a team of 400 engineers and that he is aiming to have the car ready for market by 2020. He hasn’t built cars of any kind before, but he cites his appliance-manufacturing experience—in particular, his knowledge of electric motors and aerodynamic design—as valuable assets.

He has also invested substantially in battery power. In 2015, Dyson’s company bought Sakti3, a solid-state battery maker that had been researching and developing ways to make batteries lighter and pack more energy into them than is possible with today’s lithium-ion batteries.

He will be up against many established car manufacturers who are also looking to debut new electric cars, however. Tesla is readying a new electric SUV for a 2020 debut, while Ford and Volkswagon both hope to make 2020 the year they each start marketing their new electric crossover vehicles. Arthur Wheaton, a Cornell University auto-industry expert, cautioned that Dyson’s electronic appliance know-how does not guarantee that he will be able to break into the highly competitive auto industry.

“Dyson can use the premium image of its vacuum products and design experience,” said Wheaton. “They do have a chance to be a niche player, like Tesla was at the beginning, but man, that’s a steep hill to climb.”

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