Car Culture: Dicing Dyson

Your weekly look at what sucks in our world of cars, plus some good bits


Sir James Dyson, the man, the money, and his car

There are so many clever and socially conscious people in the world who make our lives better and yet here I am, just as Margaret Thatcher wanted, discussing an extraordinarily wealthy entrepreneur, a jingoistic self-promoter and profiteer. She denigrated public service, told us society did not exist, demoting postmen, railway workers, teachers, nurses, doctors – anyone who did any good in the community – downgraded to the lowest category. We were reduced to farming livestock, some good for breeding, others for selling at market.

Britain’s men of mega-money, the bosses, they were the people we should venerate. BBC even has a regular television series dedicated to a chosen few, The Dragon’s Den, where, pitching to the self-satisfied team of opinionated millionaires, less than half of the hopefuls looking for investment see a penny for one reason and another. Bank used to be the place to go for loans.

The week Sir James Dyson announced the closure of his car design business. He said he could not make money out of it. Bit late in the day to make that discovery. Did no one do the calculations at the start?

Dyson boasts – I choose the word carefully – closing down his car making enterprise cost him a personal £500 million. It will help balance the books at the end of the financial year. What Dyson forgot to mention, and the deferential press too, was he received a £16 million grant from the UK government towards battery research for the car.

A grant is the same as welfare for you and I, paid from our taxes, in Dyson’s case, money down the Swanee. We won’t get that money back. Even so, most company bosses that lose £500 million would be tossed out on their neck by shareholders. Who cares a fig? Most of us have forgotten Sir Philip Green is still living in luxury. We complain on Twitter and spit in disgust but nothing happens to see a fair society exist. Big business has governments in its pocket.

The car he hoped to manufacture was an high-end SUV – he only makes things to sell to the wealthy and the cash rich. There’s no doubting his creative staff are very talented at contemporary leading design. Cars are a completely different matter. Actually, he announced he was shutting his car activities last year but hoped to find a buyer. With Tesla ruling the roost of electric cars, and most other mainstream car makers about to launch two or three electric models, Dyson made a serious error judgment thinking he could beat long established companies. He is not Elon Musk.

The car is not the only failure to his name. Among a string of no-takers is his washing machine with the obligatory purple bits, that thrashed clothes to recreate the way we used to do it by hand. You’ll find one model of it on display in most PC World showrooms priced at £1,200. Which? laboratories called it unreliable and poor value for the money. Dyson sued the government sponsored cheat checker but lost. The public didn’t take to his status symbol knowing you can buy four superb brands for the price of a Dyson.

In politics Dyson made the fatal mistake of ingratiating himself with UKip, the Brexit Party and the Tory Party. He praised British inventiveness and decried EU bureaucracy only to up stakes and flounce off to Singapore to develop and produce his ‘revolutionary’ vehicle. He did it just as the EU was bringing in legislation to outlaw high-powered vacuums that help screw up our atmosphere. Dyson’s inventions always seem to carry a penalty. At 71, having built a self-made family fortune estimated at £9.5 billion, he can certainly afford to insulate himself from the slings and arrows of public opprobrium.

He began his company with the ‘Ballbarrow’, a conventional barrow but with an inflated orange ball (later used on an early vacuum), instead of a wheel to make it more tractable moving left and right or over mud. The body was made of moulded plastic. The ball deflated in double-quick time, the metal fixings rusted and snapped, and the plastic container section split carrying anything heavy and sharp. But he sold a ton of them.

New doesn’t always mean the best. A few more inventions, good and bad times, joining up with a Japanese company, and then to his famous vacuums, redesigning hairdryers and hand dryers sold at sky high prices on the way.


Dyson’s yacht, The Nahlin, an old American Indian word meaning fleet of foot

Arch Brexiteer Dyson owns a yacht, The Nahlin, purchased from another jingoistic English multi-millionaire, the one who advocated Scotland trash civil rights and vote independence down, Sir Anthony Bamford, Chairman of JCB diggers and bulldozers. A wonderful irony attached to the yacht is where it was built, the John Brown Yard on the Clyde, part of the same industry Thatcher ensured went to the wall.

As well as a yacht, he surrounded himself with all the trappings of the rich, pretty well cancelling out any good he does investing in his institute of engineering and technology in Wiltshire. He has a global portfolio of homes including a £20 million London town house, a £3 million chateau in Provence with its own vineyard, a £50 million penthouse apartment in New York, and a 51-bedroom stately home in Gloucestershire boasting orangeries, lakes and a 300-acre park designed by Capability Brown. Dyson is well able to ride out any economic turmoil that Britain’s current political paralysis will spawn.

You pay a lot of staff to look after all those places. To reach them he has a helipad in his landscaped garden, a £40 million Gulfstream jet in his personal hangar, and a showroom of cars. His yacht saw him hand over £25 million to JCB’s Bamford.

He employs 9,000 people, 1,500 fewer when he locks the gates on his car factory, and turns over £3.5 billion a year producing household goods across the world.

We’ve been here before. Back in 2002 Dyson announced he was moving production of his vacuum cleaners to Malaysia, making 800 loyal members of staff redundant in the process. The following year, he and Deirdre, decided to pocket some £17 million in dividends from the firm. He used the money to buy his stately mansion in Dodington Park, Gloucestershire, a V-sign to his sacked workers who live nearby.

Redundant staff would not have been pleased either to see the Brexiteer net some £1.6 million in EU farming subsidies. The cash was paid to Beeswax Dyson Farming Corporation, a firm he’d set up to manage the swathes of farmland he’s acquired. With around 25,000 acres under the organisation’s control, primarily in Lincolnshire, Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire, he’s now believed to be England’s biggest private landowner, with more rolling acres than even the Queen. Farmland is exempt of inheritance tax.

A wonder he has time to invent anything, devoting his life to stashing the cash.

In 2015, the Guardian revealed that various parts of his business empire were registered in the tax haven of Luxembourg. And last October, it emerged that he’d invested in three different film finance schemes via firms embroiled in tax avoidance planning. A Sunday newspaper reported Dyson is a member of Tamar Films, Tyne Films and Future Screen Partners, allowing him to keep down his tax bills.

Tamar and Tyne are run by Ingenious, a now notorious accountancy firm involved in a long-running dispute with HMRC over movie schemes, which such luminaries as David Beckham, Gary Lineker and Andrew Lloyd Webber joined in an effort to keep their hard-earned cash from the Exchequer. Back in 2009, meanwhile, Dyson gave his three children Emily, Jake and Sam a total of £45 million shortly before the capital gains tax from such transactions increased from 10 to 18 per cent.

Nobody gets stinking rich without doing dodgy deals.

I thank Dyson for two things: the paperless hand drier, and getting rid of the vacuum bag, the one thing from which vacuum makers made their millions. But after my wife brought three different Dyson vacuums that broke down in quick succession, we use the humble Henry Hoover, one of the hardiest and cheapest hoovers on the market.

The press like to call him, and others of his ilk, a buccaneering entrepreneur. I’d like to call him a few other things. He’s a symbol of the worst of a neo-liberal economic system. Yet, with one ill-judged, and appallingly timed act of corporate desertion, the noble legacy he so cherishes, and others probably designed, now looks hopelessly tarnished. Moreover, the world does not need another SUV even if his boast was true that it could travel 600 miles on a single charge.

Remember, Dyson advertises heavily worldwide. In every product the company sells a large portion of the price covers marketing costs. We pay Dyson to tell us his product is better than the others.


Scooters to blooter

A little boy on a small self-propelled scooter crossed the road in front of my car today remind me we will see more of them in the near future ridden by adults. In the States they can manage up to 30 mph, though for how long I am too lazy to check. Like cyclists on footpaths they’re another hazard for long suffering pedestrians. I can report e-scooters will be limited to 12.5 mph when they are trialled in the UK, while an ongoing consultation will decide the final rules that will apply to the vehicles when they are fully legalised for road use. Anyone who uses an e-scooter during the trial period will need to hold either a provisional or full UK driving licence, but no training will be required and helmets will not be mandatory. E-scooter providers, meanwhile, will need to ensure their vehicles are covered by a motor vehicle insurance policy. There are decisions still to be made including whether a driving licence should be required to ride one and if a final speed limit should be 15.5 mph.

Lock-down breakdowns

If you’ve not used your car while in lock-down, check the battery and the tyre inflation levels. (And use hot water and a sponge or jay cloth to wipe off the bird poo before the acid in it stains the paintwork permanently.) The easing of the UK lock-down In England has led to a 72 per cent increase in car breakdowns, according to Green Flag patrols. Cars are like humans, sit around too long and they get creaky and stiff. To prevent battery failure start the engine once a week and let it run for up to 20 minutes. You  should also try to move the car at some point. Tyres develop flat spots if left sitting in the same position too long.

Coming our way

Milan is to introduce one of Europe’s most ambitious schemes reallocating street space from cars to cycling and walking, in response to the coronavirus crisis. The northern Italian city and surrounding Lombardy region are among Europe’s most polluted, and have also been especially hard hit by the Covid-19 outbreak. Under the nationwide lock-down, motor traffic congestion has dropped by 30-75%, and air pollution with it. City officials hope to fend off a resurgence in car use as residents return to work looking to avoid busy public transport. The city has announced that 35km (22 miles) of streets will be transformed over the summer, with a rapid, experimental citywide expansion of cycling and walking space to protect residents as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted. We may be out of the EU but we are just as able as ever to copy what is happening there, but there will be a backlash as soon as winter arrives. And who will want to use public transport when we go back to work?

Happy motoring when you can!


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2 Responses to Car Culture: Dicing Dyson

  1. capnandy1 says:

    To be fair, the original Dysons, although a bit heavy, were good solid pieces of machinery. You could keep them going forever. However you are right with regard to his more recent offerings. They are flimsy and massively overpriced. I simply cannot believe the price of the latest ones.

  2. Grouse Beater says:

    Do you mean the uprights, with the transparent cylinder and ball foot? I agree.

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