Will This Ex-Tesla Executive Help Dyson Sell an Electric Car?

  • U.K. vacuum maker looks beyond living rooms and bathrooms
  • Former Tesla communications chief to help Dyson expand in U.S.

The Dyson campus in Malmesbury, U.K.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

There are idyllic corporate campuses, and then there’s the thing Dyson Ltd. built. Nestled in the English countryside are massive research and development centers, top secret labs and various toys that founder James Dyson collected over the years, including a helicopter in the parking lot and a jet plane in the cafeteria.

It’s from this unlikely place that Dyson hopes to make a worldwide splash over the next year and change the way people think about the high-end vacuum maker. 

An English Electric Lightning fighter jet hangs above workers as they sit at tables during lunch in the lightning cafe at the Dyson Ltd. campus in Malmesbury, U.K., on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. In addition to cordless cleaning products, the company's sale of air purifiers and humidifiers was a strong driver of growth, with sales increasing 35 percent globally, driven by strong demand in Asia, the company said. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

An English Electric Lightning fighter jet hangs above the cafe at Dyson’s campus.

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Ricardo Reyes

Photographer: Michael Short/Bloomberg

The person leading this charge is Ricardo Reyes, Dyson’s new communications chief. He made a name for himself in Silicon Valley as the top spokesman for Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors Inc. where he survived longer than most who have held that position. Reyes also worked at Google, YouTube and Square Inc.

The appointment of Reyes is of note for a couple of reasons. Last year, Dyson launched the Supersonic, a hair dryer that took about four years and $70 million to develop. Like all Dyson products, the hair dryer was intensely engineered and costs a lot -- $400. It also marked a major expansion for Dyson past things like vacuums and air purifiers. Executives have promised more products as the company tries to become the Apple of home appliances. Reyes must solidify this idea in consumers’ minds, and has already honed his talking points.

"Dyson is growing from the living room to the bathroom and beyond, so people are going to interact with it a lot more," Reyes said. "The typical consumer has no idea of the amount of innovation going on here."

Dyson has also been rumored to be working on an electric car. Last year, the Financial Times turned up government documents that revealed funding to help Dyson on this project. Dyson bought battery startup Sakti3 for $90 million in 2015, and pledged last year to spend 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion) on battery development over five years, putting it in closer competition with Tesla.

Dyson campus

Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

Dyson already has deep electric motor experience. Lab 61 at its headquarters is filled with electric motors of all sizes that have gone through more than a decade of research and sit at the heart of Dyson’s products. This includes the hair dryer, which runs on a miniaturized turbine.

If you were looking to bring a new electric car to market, then Reyes would be a good choice, since he helped usher in Tesla’s Roadster, Model S and Model X vehicles. Asked about Dyson’s plans for an electric car, Reyes said, "You never know what Dyson has up its sleeve."

For Reyes, Dyson was a good match with Tesla. "It’s very rare to find companies that combine software, hardware and manufacturing all together and to find a company like that that goes direct to the consumer," he said.

At Tesla, Reyes was known for having Musk’s ear and being able to sway the inventor at times. But the relationship deteriorated as the years went on, and confrontations around product launches grew more heated. 

Asked about the personality of James Dyson, Reyes said, "He moves very quickly, but, at the same time, he’s measured and thoughtful."

The company’s brand is strongest in Europe and Japan. It hopes new products will make Dyson a more familiar name in the U.S. and other countries.

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