That Sucks: Tesla Was Hip to Dyson’s Secret Car Plans Before Any of Us

vacuum cleaner

As you know, Dyson, the vacuum/hairdryer manufacturer, is moving into electric vehicles. The company has made plans to introduce a radical example (with new solid-state batteries) to market by 2020 that will suck and blow you away. But you only found out last year, which was long after Tesla Motors caught wind of a fresh competitor on the horizon.

Apparently, an engineer spilled the beans to Tesla’s legal representation around the same time he was being interviewed for a position at the automaker. If you’re wondering if he got the job, he did.

This is the second time Dyson’s plans for EV secrecy went haywire. Its public announcement wasn’t supposed to be until September of this year. However, a slip-up by the British government saw its National Infrastructure Delivery Plan mention that the public would help fund the company in “developing a new battery electric vehicle” — giving away the secret in 2016. 

The more recent case with the Tesla engineer actually predates the governmental snafu, but legal complications stalled any public knowledge of the matter. According to courtroom testimony provided by Bloomberg, 30-year-old French national Pierre Pellerey informed Tesla about Dyson’s electric car over two years before it was made public — resulting in months of legal battles.

Pellerey, a former Dyson employee, had apparently forwarded Dyson’s plans to Tesla lawyer Yusuf Mohamed after successfully interviewing for a position with the company. Discovering the betrayal, Dyson moved for an injunction, preventing Pierre from working for Tesla for nine months. Considering Pellerey’s official hire date at Tesla, that would place the day of the leak somewhere in the middle of 2015.

From Bloomberg:

“Pellerey, a French national and a senior engineer earning 51,000 pounds a year at Dyson’s headquarters in Wiltshire, U.K., accepted a job from Tesla in March 2015, but didn’t immediately tell Dyson because the offer was conditional on getting a visa to work in the U.S., according to the court ruling released this week.

In May, with the visa still not approved, he was called into a secret meeting with two colleagues and told that James Dyson wanted the company to develop an electric car. They would be drafted to work on the confidential project, known only as “Project E.â€� The three were told to take their laptops and move to a secure area within the research department.”

“I felt a little uncomfortable about being involved in that project, as I knew I would be involved with electric vehicles at Tesla,� Pellerey later explained to the court. He also noted that, had he come forward, he would be risking his career at both companies.

Initially, Dyson issued a letter to the engineer stipulating that he had to wait 12 months before working for Tesla. Understandably concerned, Pellerey handed it over to Tesla’s legal council — who responded by warning him not to publish it on social media, as the company was gearing up for a legal battle with Dyson.

“The disclosure of that letter to Mr. Mohamed told him, a member of the outside world, that DTL [Dyson] was working on an electric car,� Judge Keith Lindblom ruled in February 2016. “That was just the type of disclosure that the Project E team had had impressed upon it that it must not make.�

“It does not require a great deal of imagination to come to the conclusion that DTL would not be going to such trouble if the only confidential information he possessed related to vacuum cleaners and hand dryers,� Judge Snowden said in the earlier October 2015 ruling, which forced Pellerey to wait nine months before beginning work at Tesla Motors.