Rimac busy winning over petrol heads to electric car revolution

Croatian company has developed world’s fastest electric supercar from scratch

The Rimac Concept Two: boasting 1,914 horsepower to propel the 0-60 mph in 1.85 seconds, it has a maximum speed to 412 kilometres per hour.

The Rimac Concept Two: boasting 1,914 horsepower to propel the 0-60 mph in 1.85 seconds, it has a maximum speed to 412 kilometres per hour.

 

While Tesla is stealing much of the innovative limelight in the motoring world, one company that is busy trying to win over petrolheads to the electric car revolution is Rimac Automobili, a little-known Croatian electric vehicle (EV) manufacturer in which Porsche has just taken a minority stake.

Established by Mate Rimac, the company has developed the one of world’s fastest electric supercars with its latest vehicle, the Rimac Concept Two, boasting 1,914 horsepower to propel the 0-100 km/h in 1.85 seconds, and a maximum speed to 412 km/h.

Almost every component used in the company’s supercars are designed and built from scratch in-house, which partly explains the $2 million starter price for the car.

The vehicle, which can be unlocked and started using facial recognition technology, comes with Level 4 autonomous capabilities and claims an impressive 400-mile range on a single charge via a 120 kWh battery. It is expected to go into production in 2020 with Rimac looking to manufacture at least 150 of them a year.

While the supercars themselves have become objects of desire and helped to change the way people think about EVs, Rimac’s other role as a high-end component and technology provider for other companies, including large OEMs, means its parts are turning up elsewhere.

Remember the Jaguar E-Type Zero that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle drove off in after their recent wedding reception? The £350,000 car, which was originally manufactured in 1968, was converted from a combustion engine into an environmentally friendly electric one by Rimac.

If you haven’t heard of the company from that then maybe they popped up on your radar when footage emerged of presenter Richard Hammond walking away from the burning wreckage of a Rimac Concept One car while shooting the television show The Grand Tour last year. While the jury is still out on whether it was the car or Hammond’s driving that led to the crash, the accident certainly didn’t hurt Rimac. It recorded an increase in orders as the public heard about the company for the first time.

Rimac, which has signed deals to provide components and technology to car manufacturers that include Aston Martin, Jaguar and Koenigsegg, has raised over $30 million to date with Porche the latest investor to come onboard when it took a 10 per cent stake in the company last month. Other major backers include Asia’s largest battery manufacturer, Camel Group.

Mate Rimac, who founded the company in 2009 and remains its majority shareholder, says that while the group has made great progress to date, there is still much for it to achieve.

“The odds of getting to where we are now were next to nothing and the stars still have to align correctly for us to get where we want to be,” he told The Irish Times recently.

National awards

One thing the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year award finalist has on his side is time. The Croat, who recently appeared on Forbes prestigious 30 Under 30 list of the top disruptors to watch, turned 30 this month. He said his interest in cars began young.

“I was always crazy about them. Even before I could walk or talk I was obsessed and that has never left me.”

Aided to a love of cars was an early interest in electronics with the young man winning national awards in the subject while still at school. By the age of 17, Rimac also had a number of patents to his name. But it was two years later when the engine on his 1984 BMW 3 Series blew up that his obsession with cars and electrics merged.

He fitted the banjaxed BMW with an experimental electric vehicle drivetrain, turning it from a traditional combustion engine to electrical power. He then started racing the car against gas-powered ones.

“I wanted to prove that electric cars could be exciting rather than just boring and efficient. Of course, people laughed at me initially at the racetrack. There were plenty of wisecracks about having a washing machine on wheels and so on. At the beginning the car wasn’t fast or reliable and I’d sometimes get electrocuted while driving it, but over time as we worked on it the car got better,” said Rimac.

So much better that the re-engineered vehicle broke five Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) records and earned a Guinness World Record for fastest accelerating vehicle.

In 2009, Rimac decided to build his own electric car from scratch. What began as a garage project has rapidly grown into a 400-people company based in Sveta Nedelja, near Zagreb. There is also a subsidiary called Greyp Bikes which is developing high-performance electric bicycles that offer 65 km/h top speed and a range of up to 120 km without pedalling.

Rimac gained investors early on with the royal family of Abu Dhabi among those who wanted to back the company. However, they pulled out when he wouldn’t relocate the company to the Middle East. Ultimately this was a good thing, according to the businessman.

“It would have been impossible to design cars in the way we have done if we hadn’t have had constraints. These constraints helped turn us into a technology company, rather than just a manufacturer,” he says.

“If we would have had a lot of finance then we would have just done what everyone else was doing, which is relying on suppliers for parts. But we had to be creative and develop a car from scratch instead. The great thing though about doing this with electric vehicles rather than gas-powered ones is that you can do things you’d never usually be able to do, even it in terms of things like fitting the battery and powertrain differently.”

Single purpose

He continues. “ I really don’t know of many examples in history where absolutely everything has been developed for one single purpose, which in our case is to design the perfect EV. If you look at other top-of-the-range cars like the LaFerarri for instance. Ferrari has taken the suspension from a 458, while the engine is carried over from an 812, and the gearbox comes from somewhere else again.

“There was no carryover for us when we designed the Concept car. Absolutely everything, from cooling pumps for batteries, to the chassis, the electrics and suspension were developed specially for it and so is optimised.”

The company might not be as well known for its its role as a components manufacturer and technology provider but this part of the business, which grew out of its work designing parts for its own vehicles, helped it become commercially sustainable.

“Out of necessity we started to work with industry to engineer prototypes for them and this turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to us,” said Rimac.

As Tesla has found out, it is one thing to build a prototype and another altogether to ramp up to full production. Rimac says that doing this is the biggest challenge currently facing the company.

Another big one is trying to build a sustainable business in Croatia. The country may have become known of late for his football team, which got to the World Cup final, but it is hardly the first place you’d think of when it comes to leading car manufacturers,

Rimac though is determined that the heart of the business will remain in his home country no matter how big the company grows.

“We are now employing 400 people and are planning new production facilities in Croatia with the goal of ultimately employing 2,000 people. I have been driven by patriotism for my country and maybe it would be better for the company if this were not so but I want a substantial part of the business to be there,” he says.

“The company has a long way to go but I believe we will be known as the ones who make the best electric sports cars in the world and also as the leader provider of technology and parts for premium high performance vehicles made by others,” Rimac added.