Dyson's electric dream

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Vacuum company plans to clean up with battery-powered car

News that Dyson is to produce a brand new all-electric car by 2020 has been greeted by a wide range of reactions, from qualified approval to something close to disbelief.

Sir James Dyson, the 70-year-old entrepreneur, whose inventions have transformed the way people go about aspects of life from cleaning their homes to drying their hands, has said little about the car beyond naming its launch date and that he’s had 400 engineers on the £2.5 billion project since 2015. He has claimed it will be ‘radically different’ from current offerings and that it won’t be cheap.

It is the sheer ambition of the plan that has got people talking. From what Dyson has said and what can be deduced, the car is a from-scratch design, as is a battery that apparently already exists and has accounted for £1 billion of the budget. Five years from project inception to delivery is an incredibly short period of time for a genuinely new design, even for an established player in the automotive market with the expertise, supply chains and, above all, somewhere to manufacture it. As of this month and with as little as three years to go, Dyson has no running prototype and no suitable factory.

It is this, plus knowledge of the immense legislative and regulatory hurdles required to be negotiated before any new car can be certified for use on the public road, that has caused some to doubt the timeframe. Then again, Dyson has spent his professional life delighting in proving the establishment wrong and has made himself a billionaire in the process. Moreover, while the project may only have started in 2015, it’s been on Dyson’s mind for rather longer, ever since 1998 when he abandoned plans to clean up the exhausts of diesel cars thanks to an apathetic response from the industry.

What kind of car can we expect? Dyson has said it will be neither a sports car nor a cheap car, which isn’t telling us much: electric sports cars are inherently problematic because of their weight and lack of sound, while ‘cheap’ and ‘electric car’ are for now largely mutually exclusive concepts. So while Dyson says it will be a radical car, I expect that to be reflected in its design rather than its configuration. He has to go where the money is, which now and for the foreseeable future is likely to be the SUV market, where both vast sales and huge profits lie – just ask Porsche. There is also no great expectation of dynamism and a lack of noise is regarded as a bonus.

Expect the revolution to come in both the way the car is constructed and the kind of battery used. Solid-state batteries have enormous potential advantages over the lithium-ion batteries used in all modern electric cars. They weigh less, are more energy dense, generate less heat so therefore require less cooling and, most enticingly of all, are cheaper. The result is a more affordable, lighter, more efficient and safer electric car with far greater potential range as a result. In 2014 a company called Sakti3 said it was homing in on a solid-state battery with double the energy density of conventional batteries costing one fifth of the price. In 2015 Sakti3 was bought by Dyson.

NEW ASTON DROP-TOP

Aston Martin has completed the DB11 range by pulling the wraps of the new convertible Volante version. Featuring a new eight-layer roof design that can lower in 14sec, raise in 16sec and all at speeds up to 31mph, the Volante’s bodywork is new from behind the doors rearward. Most notable are the deletion of the so-called ‘aeroblades’ that channel air through the coupé’s C-pillars and onto the rear deck to increase downforce.

The Volante weighs 110kg more than the coupé, but it is still 25kg lighter than the DB9 Volante and five per cent stiffer. That said, the DB11 Volante is being launched with the 503bhp Mercedes-AMG 4-litre V8 under its bonnet, not the 5.9-litre V12 of the DB9, so a like-for-like comparison is not possible.

Interestingly, and despite this significant weight gain, Aston Martin says performance has hardly been affected, its 0-62mph time of 4.1sec trailing that of its hard-top sister by a scant tenth of a second. Top speed of 187mph (with the roof up) is unchanged.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the decision not to offer the new 5.2-litre V12 in the Volante. It would certainly add even more weight – in coupé form the V12 DB11 weighs 115kg more than the V8 – which would bring the Volante version perilously close to two tonnes, but one wonders whether Volante customers are really going to be fussed by that. It would seem likely that, if offered the pinnacle engine, a significant number of clients would be only too happy to accept. So regardless of what you might read elsewhere about there being no plans for such a car, my every instinct says there are.

The DB11 Volante is on sale now, priced at £159,900, a £15,000 increase over the V8 coupé. Deliveries are expected early in the New Year.

RING CYCLE 

Records have been tumbling this month. Firstly the new Alfa Romeo Stelvio Quadrifoglio set a new record for an SUV at the Nürburgring, which doesn’t strike me as terribly important, then the new Porsche 911 GT2 RS smashed the record for any kind of standard-production car, which does.

In lapping the track in 6min 47.3sec, the GT2 RS has suggested in the clearest possible terms that the hybrid hypercars that were perceived to have advanced significantly the limits of road-car performance might not have done so at all. Indeed the entirely conventional GT2 RS shaved 10sec off the time recorded by Porsche’s own hybrid 918 Spyder, and it is an open secret that McLaren’s 720S is quicker than its P1 hypercar. The question is whether the additional power provided by these hybrid systems even offset their increased weight, let alone added additional performance. On this evidence the answer appears to be no.

In other record-breaking news, Bugatti’s record 42sec time for the 0-400kph-0 time we reported last month didn’t last long. Those cheeky fellows at Koenigsegg wheeled out a customer’s Agera RS and did the same in 37.28sec. What’s more, bad weather caused a change of venue to a poorly surfaced, traction-limited airfield. The data showed the traction- control system on the 1340bhp monster was still active at more than 110mph…

MINI MARVEL

Remember the 1275GT? Mini does. In homage to its 1970s creation it has announced the 1499GT, to be sold only in the UK. It has no more power – 101bhp from its 1.5-litre three-cylinder engine – but comes with sports suspension, black or white paint, various John Cooper Works trim items and those crucial 1499GT side decals. Prices start at £16,990.