Cautionary Tales – The False Dawn of the Electric Car

8th April, 2022

Sir Clive Sinclair was a computer whizz and business mogul to rival Steve Jobs or Bill Gates. He was a visionary who could do no wrong… until he tried to launch an electric vehicle.

The C5 “electrically assisted pedal cycle” doesn’t seem so outlandish to us now… but 1985 just wasn’t ready for the “aerodynamic bathtub” on wheels. Sir Clive was ridiculed and his business ruined. How did it all go so wrong?

Cautionary Tales is written by me, Tim Harford, with Andrew Wright. It is produced by Ryan Dilley, with support from Courtney Guarino and Emily Vaughn.

The sound design and original music is the work of Pascal Wyse. Julia Barton edited the scripts.

Thanks to the team at Pushkin Industries, including Mia Lobel, Jacob Weisberg, Heather Fain, Jon Schnaars, Carly Migliori, Eric Sandler, Emily Rostek, Royston Beserve, Maggie Taylor, Nicole Morana, Daniella Lakhan and Maya Koenig.

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Further reading and listening

We relied on contemporary media coverage, plus three books about Sir Clive Sinclair and his inventions: “Sinclair and the Sunrise Technology” by Ian Adamson and Richard Kennedy; “The Sinclair C5 Story” by D.J. Cogan, and in particular “The Sinclair Story” by Rodney Dale.

The idea of innovation and the adjacent possible is explored in Steven Johnson’s “Where Good Ideas Come From“.

An academic exploration of the affair is Andrew P. Marks, (1989),”The Sinclair C5 – An Investigation into its Development, Launch, and Subsequent Failure”, European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 23 Iss 1 pp. 61 – 71

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