Thursday, 25 October 2018

Dyson to build electric cars in Singapore, with launch planned for 2021; Dyson to move head office from Britain to St James Power Station in Singapore

Bladeless-fan maker Dyson to make electric cars in Singapore
By Christopher Tan, Senior Transport Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Oct 2018

Home-appliance maker Dyson said yesterday that it will make electric cars at a facility in Singapore.

The plant, at a location which the British company refused to reveal, will be ready by 2020.

Neither would it say much about the car when quizzed, except that it will be electric, and "very different from anything in existence" today.

Dyson said the two-storey manufacturing facility will be "a highly sophisticated one, using the latest technologies, including robotics and automation".

Almost a year ago, the firm behind the bladeless fan said it had begun working on an electric vehicle.

Dyson said then it had assembled a team of 400 and was committed to spending £2 billion (S$3.6 billion) on the project. It would not say how much of that investment will be for the Singapore plant.

Asked why it was venturing into this highly competitive field, a Dyson spokesman told The Straits Times in September last year that the company came up with a diesel particulate filter system in the 1990s. But the market was not ready for it then, and the project was halted.

"Now, Dyson has the opportunity to bring all our technologies together into a battery electric vehicle. Rather than filtering emissions at the exhaust pipe, today we have the ability to solve it at the source."

In a Facebook post yesterday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said he met Dyson founder James Dyson last month. "He told me that our expertise in advanced manufacturing, global and regional connectivity, and the quality of our research scientists and engineers all influenced Dyson's decision," PM Lee wrote, noting that the car was expected to launch in 2021.

Dyson said construction of the plant will begin in December, and it will be completed in 2020.

The news took industry players by surprise. A senior executive with a top German manufacturer said: "There are more than 100 electric carmakers in China, and none of them is a traditional car manufacturer. They buy parts from various suppliers and simply assemble them. This model is not viable. They are exposed to huge cost risks, and they will not have the expertise to deal with after-sales service or safety recalls. That does not mean none will succeed. Geely was a refrigerator maker. But that is just one out of how many?"

Another senior executive with a major listed motor company here said: "They have picked the most expensive place... to build a car."

But Dr Andrew Delios, a professor at the National University of Singapore's Department of Strategy and Policy, said: "It is not expensive to manufacture in Singapore. For high-value-added products with substantial automation, skilled labour and a steady business environment are more important than hourly wage rates."

Dr Nitin Pangarkar, an associate professor in the same department, said: "Cars are far more complex than the usual Dyson products. They lack the brand reputation and the technological expertise, so it is going to be a big challenge for them."

Singapore had a car-assembling industry back in the 1960s. But it ceased by the 1980s, when lower-cost locations emerged.

Some 15 years ago, the Government began looking at reviving the industry. The Economic Development Board explored the possibility with motor giants such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Nissan and General Motors on setting up manufacturing or assembly operations here.

Why Dyson picked Singapore to build its electric cars
The Straits Times, 25 Oct 2018

When James Dyson, the billionaire British inventor of the bagless vacuum cleaner, unveiled a plan to build an electric car plant in Singapore, it raised a few eyebrows.

Not only does the land-starved city state have some of the highest average salaries in the world, but it has also been nearly 40 years since Ford closed its factory in Singapore, effectively ending car production on the South-east Asian island.

"It is a bit of a surprise because of the cost base and no other car manufacturing plant being here," said Mr Shantanu Majumdar, a regional director at consultancy JD Power.

Dyson said on Tuesday (Oct 23) the decision was based on supply chains, access to markets and the availability of expertise, which offset the cost factor.

But what other factors could have influenced the decision? Why not head straight to the biggest electric vehicle market in the world, China, like rival Tesla?

Here's a look at some of the less obvious pros and cons:


Compared with other global cities, Singapore has some of the highest average salaries in the world after tax, according to studies by Deutsche Bank. Land available for industrial use is scarce and expensive, and it ranks highly in general cost-of-living indexes.

But aside from its skilled engineers and scientists, for a high-tech firm like Dyson, Singapore offers generous incentive schemes.

Some schemes include tax breaks for five years, which can be extended, and grants that can cover up to 30 per cent of the cost of projects to improve business efficiency. Singapore declined to comment on whether Dyson benefited from any such schemes.

To shore up productivity in its manufacturing sector, which makes up less than quarter of its output, Singapore has focused efforts on attracting high-end manufacturers and those who adopt automated production processes.


Dyson may have decided to make electric cars in Singapore, but few are likely to be driven here - or anywhere in South-east Asia for that matter.

The number of privately owned electric vehicles in Singapore is in single digits, and Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk has criticised Singapore for not being supportive of electric vehicles.

Singapore is one of the world's most expensive places to own a car because the Government strictly controls the vehicle population by charging owners a variable rate for the right to own and use a vehicle for a limited number of years.

In the broader South-east Asia, only 142 electric vehicles are forecast to be sold this year, data from consultant LMC Automotive shows.

By contrast, sales in China are forecast to almost reach 700,000 vehicles this year, more than double the combined sales from the United States and Europe.

But with one of the world's busiest ports on its doorstep, Dyson can roll a car off the production line in Singapore, and within the hour, it can be on its way to China or other sizable electric vehicle markets like South Korea or Japan.

Dyson products - which also include bladeless fans, air purifiers and hair dryers - are becoming a premium brand in China and other Asian markets. Asia accounted for more than 70 per cent of its growth last year, the firm said.


Dyson's history with Singapore probably also played a role.

It already employs 1,100 people in Singapore, making 21 million digital electric motors a year. It also has manufacturing hubs in Malaysia - connected to Singapore via two road bridges - and the Philippines.

"This is obviously a surprise but since Singapore is at the heart of South-east Asia, Dyson would be best placed to source many components from neighbouring countries and, locally, assemble and manufacture the high-tech car here," said a corporate banker who deals with multinational firms in the region.

Another option for Dyson could have been to follow rival Tesla to the biggest market, China.

By the time Dyson's first car is ready in 2021, Tesla may already be selling locally produced cars in China after it signed a deal with the Shanghai government for an 860,000 sq m plot of land to build its first overseas Gigafactory.

But China is becoming a crowded market for making electric vehicles and the government is reining in subsidies.

Meanwhile, Singapore has an extensive free trade agreement with China which lists various car types and car parts in its tariff-reduction schedule.

Singapore's Economic Development Board did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether electric vehicles would be eligible for exemptions under this arrangement.

JD Power's Majumdar said intellectual property would be another consideration for Dyson.

"Intellectual protections are very strong in Singapore... It is definitely an advantage. When you are in China... you may not be so comfortable on that part."


*  Dyson moving its head office to Singapore
Dyson's Singapore move to take advantage of opportunities in Asia
Decision comes just months after plan to set up its first electric car plant in Republic
By Seow Bei Yi, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 23 Jan 2019

British home appliance manufacturer Dyson will transfer its head office's registration to Singapore, a decision that comes just months after it announced that it will set up its first electric car plant here.

This means Dyson - famed for its bagless vacuum cleaners and bladeless fans - will become a Singapore-based business and primarily be regulated by the law here.

"What we have seen in the last few years is an acceleration of the opportunities to grow a company from a revenue perspective in Asia," Dyson chief executive Jim Rowan said in a media conference yesterday.

"All of our manufacturing and a majority of our future investments will be in Asia," he added, noting that regional countries such as China have grown at a rapid pace to the size of mature markets like the United States and Japan.

Technology adoption in places like India and South-east Asia is expected to accelerate in the coming years as well, he said. This is among the reasons Dyson's chief financial officer and chief legal officer will be relocated to Singapore very shortly, and its team built up here.

Mr Rowan said the decision did not have anything to do with Brexit or tax benefits, but that it is for the company to be in the best position to secure opportunities and keep an eye on its investments. Mr Rowan is based in Singapore as well.

He said Brexit is unlikely to impact Dyson, given that its supply chain is based in South-east Asia. He also said Singapore's corporate tax rate of 17 per cent - lower than Britain's - would mean only a negligible difference in what would be paid.

He stressed that the move to relocate to Singapore was an "evolutionary decision" due to the changing landscape.

Dyson's centre of gravity has been shifting towards Asia, which in 2017 generated almost 75 per cent of its revenue growth.

The firm already employs 1,100 people here, and plans to double the size of its research and operations. Its Singapore Technology Centre in Science Park will double in size as well. Its global research and development team grew to 5,853 engineers and scientists last year, with investments deepening in areas including energy storage and robotics.

Dyson has also announced that its profits last year broke £1 billion (S$1.8 billion) for the first time, growing 33 per cent to £1.1 billion from 2017. This came as investments in advanced manufacturing and research reached a new high, while revenue growth continued, in part on the back of new products such as its new hairdryer and air purification technology.

The firm also announced that former Infiniti Motor Company president Roland Krueger will join Dyson in April, in the lead-up to the expected completion of its electric car manufacturing facility here by next year. The first model could be rolled out by 2021.

Mr Krueger will be based in Singapore as well, and will oversee all aspects of Dyson's automotive project as it approaches launch.

The company has about 430 people working on the car, and expects this to grow as well. Its Singapore manufacturing facility is part of its £2 billion move into automobiles.

Singapore's expertise in advanced manufacturing was among the factors that made it an ideal location to manufacture the car, the firm said, adding: "An increasing majority of Dyson's customers... are now in Asia. This shift has been occurring for some time and will quicken as Dyson brings its electric vehicle to market."

The company ceased British production of domestic appliances in 2003. It has facilities in Malaysia and the Philippines as well.

Last year, Dyson continued its £31 million investment in higher education in Britain, where core creative and engineering parts will remain.

Public backlash in Britain over Dyson's HQ relocation to Singapore
By Arvind Jayaram, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2019

British technology company Dyson has been hit by a public backlash over its decision to move its headquarters to Singapore, with many in Britain labelling its billionaire founder, Sir James Dyson, a hypocrite.

Mr Dyson was one of the prominent voices from the business world who supported the campaign for Britain to leave the European Union (EU), arguing that the country would benefit from being outside the bloc.

Though he stated that the decision announced on Tuesday was not related to Brexit, a number of politicians and ordinary citizens slammed him for "betrayal of the public".

Many noted that the move comes in the wake of Singapore signing a free trade deal with the EU, whereas Britain's post-Brexit trading relationship with the EU remains unclear.

Mr Sam Gyimah, a Conservative MP, delivered scathing criticism on Twitter. "Dyson's decision to move his HQ to Singapore reflects his narrow business interest. This is not just a transfer of two people. When HQs move, so does the intellectual property. Betrayal of the public who put their faith in him as a British business advocating a no-deal Brexit," he wrote.

Labour lawmaker Wes Streeting accused Mr Dyson of "rank hypocrisy" on Twitter, alleging that he has "no sense of responsibility to his workers or to his country".

Mr Jason Beattie, head of campaigns at the Daily Mirror, noted: "Dyson group paid £155 million (S$275 million) in tax in the UK in 2017 and £388 million in 2016. Money which could fund schools, hospitals and universities now going to the Singapore treasury."

Mr Tom Kibasi, director of the Institute for Public Policy Research in Britain, wrote on Twitter: "James Dyson's lack of social obligation is an utter disgrace. His business succeeded because of this country. Complete absence of gratitude to workers, taxpayers, innovators, creators. Shameful."

A large number of users urged Britons to boycott Dyson products over the decision.

"Does anyone else feel like they have been mugged off, or is it just me? There was #Dyson making out that #Brexit would be great, next thing we know, he mumbles about future-proofing his business and scuttles off. Let's hope #British consumers have long memories, Mr Dyson," wrote @riceytravels.

Others called for Mr Dyson to return his knighthood or for it to be rescinded.

Dr Jennifer Cassidy, a politics lecturer at Oxford University, tweeted: "The wealthy like James Dyson belong to a Britain that, for most, simply doesn't exist. They speak of freedom, of sovereignty, of borders. But for so many, freedom is having food on the table, a roof over your head and safety for your family. This is something they will never know."

Despite the majority of voices on social media attacking the decision to relocate, there was some support for the company.

"Dyson hasn't deserted Britain... two senior executives are moving to Singapore and there is no impact on UK production or research and development. This is pretty desperate stuff from the Remain lot. If anything, it is a sign that the UK must become more competitive," wrote Twitter user @darrengrimes_.

Dyson's move a sign of Singapore's attractiveness to global firms
Analysts cite stability, FTAs and IP protection as pull factors but say move alone unlikely to have big impact on economy
By Seow Bei Yi, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 24 Jan 2019

The shift of British technology company Dyson's head office to Singapore is a "significant and symbolic" move as it shows that the Republic - with its political stability, policy planning and free trade agreements (FTAs) - remains attractive to global brands.

This is despite the relatively high labour and land costs here, economists have told The Straits Times.

But they counselled perspective on the potential impact on Singapore's economy, noting that many of Dyson's higher-value research and development roles will remain in Britain. Singapore, they said, needs to maintain its competitive edge to remain attractive as a regional centre as neighbouring economies grow.

On Tuesday, Dyson, known for its bladeless fans and bagless vacuum cleaners, said that its corporate head office will relocate from Britain to Singapore, where a rising proportion of its executive team will be based.

Dyson chief executive Jim Rowan, however, denied in a media conference that the move had anything to do with tax benefits or Brexit uncertainties, which have been cited as hurting business confidence in the British economy.

Instead, with all of Dyson's manufacturing and most of its future investments set to be in Asia, Mr Rowan said being in Singapore will help the firm put in its best effort to secure opportunities and keep an eye on investments.

Dyson is not the first major business to base its global headquarters here in recent years. In 2017, Japan's big three shipping lines announced that their new joint venture, Ocean Network Express, would house its global headquarters in Singapore.

Mr David Leong, managing director of human resource firm PeopleWorldwide Consulting, hopes an "indirect employment effect" will ripple through supporting industries for Dyson's manufacturing and operations here, such as those of its upcoming electric car plant.

It plans to set up the plant by next year, and launch its first model by 2021.

Noting that Dyson has plans to double the size of its research and operations here, Mr Leong said this may mean the creation of jobs, which could include roles such as research scientists, engineers and technicians.

Maybank Kim Eng senior economist Chua Hak Bin said, however, that Dyson's move alone is unlikely to have a significant impact on Singapore's economy, although it is symbolic as it shows the Republic remains attractive to global brands despite competition from others such as Hong Kong. Pull factors, he added, include Singapore's intellectual property protection.

CIMB economist Song Seng Wun pointed to Singapore's FTAs with countries such as the United States as a reason companies set up base here. The Republic's FTA with the European Union is pending approval, he added.

"Even though it may not be the cheapest place to do business, its infrastructure, political stability... are important in a world of rising protectionism and policy flip-flops," he said. "Singapore is stable for businesses, especially those planning big investments... They don't have to worry about unexpected regime changes or massive policy shifts."

Labour economist Walter Theseira said one should not read too much into Dyson's move as there is no indication it will relocate its research and development here.

He hopes, however, that the shift can boost plans to develop a greater R&D and advanced manufacturing presence in Singapore.

"As China is rapidly ageing, increasingly, the world is seeing that South-east Asia is a potentially strong engine for growth," he said.

"The question is whether Singapore will remain attractive as a regional centre (compared with cities like Bangkok and Jakarta, which may be closer to high-value markets).

"To remain competitive, we have to ensure our links with regional economies are strong, and that means being open to talent flows and regional work assignments."


**  Dyson to scrap $4.3 billion electric car project that had plans for plant in Singapore
By Grace Leong, Business Correspondent, The Straits Times, 11 Oct 2019

Dyson, the British electronics company, yesterday announced its decision to scrap a £2.5 billion (S$4.3 billion) project to build electric cars. The plans had included its maiden electric car plant running in Singapore by 2021.

In an e-mail to employees, inventor James Dyson, who heads the firm, said its engineers had developed a "fantastic electric car" and "have been ingenious in their approach". But despite having "tried very hard throughout the development process", the electric car could not hit the roads because it was not "commercially viable".

Mr Tan Kong Hwee, assistant managing director of Singapore's Economic Development Board (EDB), said last night that as Dyson's decision to not pursue the electric vehicle business was taken at an early stage, the disruption to its operations and workforce in Singapore would be minimal. He also said Singapore will play an important role in Dyson's growth plans.

In September 2017, Mr Dyson announced that he would make an electric car. A year later, he revealed that he would make the car in Singapore.

In May this year, the firm kicked off the hiring of automotive design engineers and free trade agreement specialists, among others, for the proposed vehicle plant.

In all, there were more than 100 job listings under Dyson, although not all were for automotive roles.

Yesterday, Mr Dyson said he has been "through a serious process to find a buyer for the project which has, unfortunately, been unsuccessful so far".

"I wanted you to hear directly from me that the Dyson board has therefore taken the very difficult decision to propose the closure of our automotive project," he said.

According to the BBC, Mr Dyson said that the company was closing electric car facilities both in the United Kingdom and Singapore. The project employed 500 people in the UK. He maintained that the car project was "not a product failure, or a failure of the team. Their achievements have been immense - given the enormity and complexity of the project".

Mr Dyson added that his company is working to quickly find alternative roles within Dyson for as many of the team as possible, and there are sufficient vacancies to absorb most of the people into its home business.

"For those who cannot, or do not wish to, find alternative roles, we will support them fairly and with the respect deserved," he said. "This is a challenging time for our colleagues, and I appreciate your understanding and sensitivity as we consult with those who are affected."

Mr Dyson, who earlier this year decided to relocate the company's head office to Singapore from the UK, has a net worth of about US$11.9 billion (S$16.4 billion), making him the UK's second-richest person.

The £2.5 billion intended for the electric car project would still be spent on developing other products, including its battery technology, he said. "Dyson will continue its £2.5 billion investment programme into new technology and grow The Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology. We will continue to expand at Malmesbury, Hullavington, Singapore and other global locations.

"We will also concentrate on the task of manufacturing solid state batteries and other fundamental technologies... sensing technologies, vision systems, robotics, machine learning, and AI offers us significant opportunities which we must grab with both hands.

"This is not the first project which has changed direction, and it will not be the last."

Mr Tan said the Singapore Government understands that Dyson has chosen to focus on growing its core home business, including new product categories, and on the development of its battery technology.

"Singapore will play an important role in Dyson's growth plans. This will lead to the creation of exciting job opportunities in its HQ, R&D and manufacturing teams, and the development of capabilities in sensor technology, vision systems, robotics, machine learning and artificial intelligence," he said. "Singapore and Dyson have enjoyed a strong partnership for more than 10 years, and we look forward to building on this partnership."

Why Dyson chose St James Power Station instead of CBD office for new global HQ in Singapore
An 'inspiring place', national monument fits in with company's building philosophy
By Poon Chian Hui, Deputy Business Editor, The Straits Times, 30 Nov 2019

Singapore has plenty of gleaming skyscrapers with swanky offices but a colonial-era power station is electrical appliance giant Dyson's top pick for its new global head office because founder James Dyson wanted "an inspiring place".

St James Power Station, which has a history harking back to 1927 as Singapore's first coal-fired power plant, fits in with the building philosophy of Dyson, said its global estates director Jasper Hasell.

While Dyson is known for its ultra-modern machines, it also appreciates design and heritage, he said.

And the power station ticks those boxes, given that it was gazetted in 2009 as a national monument and boasts distinctive architectural features such as a red-brick facade with full-length windows and a prominent chimney. The skeleton of its main structure is formed by massive steel works that support wide roof trusses.

"When James Dyson was there recently, he was looking at the rivets and structure; he was fascinated," Mr Hasell told The Straits Times.

"He wanted to find an inspiring place for our new office."

This comes as Dyson made Singapore its corporate headquarters earlier this year.

Mr Hasell, who is responsible for all of Dyson's real estate worldwide, said the team had viewed several office towers in Singapore's Central Business District but did not like the idea of staff being "split over many different floors".

The power station, on the other hand, has high ceilings and a gross floor area of about 110,000 sq ft across three blocks.

This layout will enable staff to meet and interact with one another easily, which is more conducive for research and development, said Mr Hasell, who is envisioning elements such as large connecting staircases and spacious atriums.

The final viewings took place in June and July, and Dyson made the decision in August.

"We moved fast... as we know how unique the building is in Singapore and that it would provide the inspirational workplace we are looking for," he added.

St James Power Station has undergone several facelifts in the past.

It was one of Singapore's biggest nightlife hubs from 2006 until September last year, when the lease expired. The site was then returned to landlord Mapletree.

As a national monument, its owners cannot alter the facade, build extensions or hack any walls of the building.

Dyson chief executive Jim Rowan said that care will be taken in refurbishing the building, which is at Sentosa Gateway across the road from Vivocity mall. "We've got a fantastic team of architects working on it right now, trying to make the best use of that space, while also keeping true to the architectural design elements of the building," he told ST.

Such an approach would be similar to what Dyson had done for its Hullavington campus in Britain, a World War II airfield that the company bought in 2017 and restored.

It was meant for its now-aborted electric car project.

When ST visited Hullavington earlier this month, it still looked like a page out of a history book - with its vintage plane hangars in shades of military green and grey dotted around a large field. The interior, however, has been turned into modern open-plan offices.

The mezzanine floor inside one of the hangars, for instance, is lined with rows of minimalist desks illuminated by Dyson lights overhead. An atrium cafe takes centre stage on the ground floor, with chairs in the same bright fuchsia that is seen on Dyson's hair dryers.

Mr Hasell described the restoration as "very challenging and expensive". The first phase saw two hangars, out of eight, restored at a cost of £84 million (S$148 million).

"We could have just flattened it and put up new structures, rather than repair things that have been left to decay and are falling apart."

He added that the firm is looking at transposing some green building features from Hullavington, such as the use of cross-laminated timber and energy-efficient lighting. It is gunning for the Green Mark Platinum Standard, the highest energy-efficiency rating in Singapore.

Singapore-listed landlord Mapletree has started on the base-build renovations. Dyson will then handle the fit-outs for the building.

Mr Hasell said the company plans to occupy St James Power Station by early 2021. "But we understand that (the refurbishment) is not going to be simple. Old buildings can throw surprises at you," he added.


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