Dyson cleaning up – overseas (again!)

Posted on 23 Oct 2018 by Jonny Williamson

Should we be concerned by the fact that Sir James Dyson has decided his electric vehicles are to be made in an as-yet unbuilt factory in Singapore?

Image courtesy of Dyson.
Dyson’s 2017 Financial Results showed that the business’ underlying earnings for the year rose 27% to £801m – image courtesy of Dyson.

If we were to be true to free market philosophies, then we should balance our initial indignation with a defence of the right of every manufacturer to build where they see fit.

Of course, we sincerely hope they build in the UK, but it doesn’t suit everyone to do that, so… 

…yet, I find it difficult to be entirely neutral on this. 

Firstly, newspapers are reporting that he chose Singapore because he was not able to secure sufficient guarantees of support from the government for him to do build his EVs here. That sounds to me like blackmail. I am pleased the government stood firm (well, I hope they stood firm and didn’t lose out in a bidding war.)  

It is not the purpose of a government industrial policy to featherbed rich industrialists making significant margins on their existing product lines. The current direction of travel of UK government industrial policy is correct: invest in R&D, innovation and skills, and the networks that enable growth-focused collaboration.

Dyson’s apparent plea for a government backhander smacks of 70s style winner-picking. And if we believe the reports, that was what he was after, and Singapore gave it to him.

No matter how he dresses it up, this was corporate welfare, Singapore-style. It’s not a cheap place to do business, so if you want to draw another conclusion, go ahead. I’m not buying it. (Apparently, he also likes the easy supply chain opportunities and ready source of skills that Singapore represents. Some would say that is precisely what the EU offers, but much closer to home.) 

Dyson is now focusing on entering the electric vehicle space - image courtesy of Dyson.
Dyson is said to have made the new batteries the core of its electric vehicle activities – image courtesy of Dyson.

On the subject of the EU, then there’s Brexit. Dyson is one of those Brexiteers whose antipathy to the EU seems personal. In his case it probably is, after German and French vacuum cleaner manufacturers allegedly fixed the noise testing that cost him.

(That was indeed a low blow, although his EU farming subsidies must soften it somewhat. And of course he makes his vacuum cleaners in Malaysia.)  

If he’d kept his opinions on Brexit to himself, fine. But like that other noisy entrepreneur Tim Martin of JD Wetherspoon, he made his views very public. 

He is of course entitled so to do, but I for one have enormous reservations about people supporting a policy that in the short-term – and quite probably mid- to long-term too – will cost UK manufacturers and their workforces dearly, when these rich Brexiteers quite plainly won’t personally be affected.  

“I’m all right, Jack” is an ugly place to be. It is even uglier when he could have demonstrated he believed in the nation’s post-Brexit future by setting up his EV shop in the UK, but he deliberately chose not to.  

It is blindingly apparent there is only one future Sir James has his eye on. His own.