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What Happens When a Vacuum Company Tries to Make an Electric Car

James Dyson has decided to pull the plug on what might have been a historic legacy.

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Photographer: Illustration by 731

The low point in the tour of Dyson’s electric car development lab came when, instead of actually providing a tour of the lab, the company’s engineers whipped out a hair styler. The Airwrap’s use of aerospace-inspired physics, they said, was evidence that their company had the engineering chops needed to take on Tesla, Detroit, and a wave of Chinese competitors. Mainly, it seemed to show that Dyson’s most renewable resource was hot air.

When James Dyson, the man who made the $599 bagless vacuum a thing, said in 2017 that his company was going to make an electric car, he got more than a few raised eyebrows. Over the previous decade, the septuagenarian British billionaire had managed to expand Dyson Ltd. beyond vacuums into the realm of hand dryers and home goods, but a luxury vehicle running on emission-free power would be a much tougher feat. Still, Dyson said he planned to spend £2 billion ($2.5 billion), a bet-the-company amount equivalent to two years’ earnings, on the effort to develop a product that neither blew nor sucked.