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Dyson CEO provides a few details on plan to build an EV

Appliance company intends to distinguish itself by offering electric car with longer range.

The most intriguing car story to emerge last week was the news that Dyson, the British company that produces cool-looking bagless vacuums, fans and hand dryers, and whose founder/pitchman James Dyson uses his English accent to put an elegant polish on it all, has embarked on a multibillion-dollar project to build a much larger and more ambitious household appliance — an electric car.

Now Dyson CEO Max Conze has done an interview with Wired magazine in which he fleshes out the company's plan to street an EV by 2020, which would be an insanely tight timetable if not for the fact Dyson has apparently been secretly working on this for a while.

The roadside is littered with companies who thought that because they can make a phone or a web browser, they can surely make a car, only to discover that making a car is damned hard. Apple's lofty plans were dragged down by the weight of its overly ambitious ideas. Google/Waymo gave up on its little jellybean and decided to let others build the wheels its autonomous tech would guide. The map is dotted with startups like Faraday Future whose future is entirely uncertain. Only Tesla has made something of a go of it, but when compared to the massive output of old-line car companies, it's still just a niche product. And with the Model 3, it is once again trying to reconcile founder Elon Musk's bold imaginings of 500,000 cars per year with the reality of just 260 examples of the Model 3 built to date.

One difference between some who have tried this and Dyson is that their expertise has been in software — Elon Musk, for one, thinks code can solve just about everything. Whereas Dyson has industrial experience, particularly in electric motors and batteries. But it doesn't merely want to scale up those components. It wants to build the whole car. "We like solving problems with products," Conze tells Wired. "Yes, we could be the developer of the most efficient battery, but that's not what excites us as much as using technology to come up with a product that can really make a difference."

And it doesn't want to pair with a company that already has car expertise — imagine what a joint venture with, say, Lotus or Jaguar might produce — because, "We want to do our own thing; we want to do it our own way ... we want to do a Dyson car the way that we think it needs to be done, and that requires us to have the engineering that can do the car end-to-end and also to own the manufacturing."

Conze says Dyson will differentiate itself by offering a car with a range that's 50 to 100 percent greater than the competition. But he didn't offer specifics, so it's hard to say if Dyson views the competition as a BMW i3's 80-mile range, a Chevy Bolt's 238 miles (the Bolt got even more in a Consumer Reports test) or a Tesla Model S 100D's 335 miles. (Fifty percent better than 335 would be 500 miles, just saying.)

One trait Dyson shares, for better or worse, with someone like Elon Musk — or Donald Trump — is the idea that its status as an outsider gives it an advantage. "Most of the incumbent advantages in the car industry today become a disadvantage very quickly because you're sitting on infrastructure and know-how for the cars of yesterday, not the cars of tomorrow," Conze says. "If you know a lot about combustion engines, there is very, very little transferable knowledge from building combustion engines to building electric engines."

Still, the insiders' economies of scale are what might kill any upstart competitor as this race goes forward. Daimler, BMW, VW, Volvo and others can all leverage their current products as platforms — and cash cows — for electrification. Elon Musk was reminded of this the hard way when he poked Daimler on Twitter, only to have his nose rubbed in the fact that Daimler is devoting $10 billion to electrification. Ford along with GM earlier this week laid out plans to use their expertise in making the profit-rich "cars of yesterday" — the pickups and SUVs that the people of today are still buying hand-over-fist — to generate billions and bankroll their own conversion to the "cars of tomorrow."

What's Dyson got compared to that? It has earmarked $2.7 billion for this project. And it has annual revenue of $2.5 billion to draw upon. GM's annual revenue? It's $166 billion. Toyota's annual revenue is $247 billion, so even though it is playing catch-up in EVs, it can do so using the change it finds in the couch cushions.

So we're rooting for Dyson, and we love those vacuum cleaners. But making cars is damned hard.

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