Mate Rimac shrugs his shoulders a lot. He’s not ambivalent or apathetic. He’s just leisurely compliant.
“Sure”, “No problem” and “Let’s do it,” are all phrases this 25-year-old utters a lot, whether we ask him to drift his priceless, 1,088-horsepower hypercar around a frighteningly tight hairpin kerbed high on both sides, or request yet another four-wheel burnout down the narrow lane leading up to it. And we ask him to do that a lot.
“When I was 18 I raced an old BMW E30 and one day the petrol engine blew, so I just decided to make an electric racecar,” says Mate. “Step by step I improved it and the BMW got faster. And after some time I managed to break some Guinness world records. Long story short, at one point I noticed there wasn’t much BMW left there, so I thought about whether it would be possible to make my dream come true and just build my own car. So that’s what I did.”
He shrugged his shoulders and built the world’s fastest electric car. The Rimac Concept One is exactly that, a concept, but it’s also a working, rolling emporium of this young prodigy’s talents. This car weighs 1,950kg, puts down 1,600Nm of torque to the road, generates 1.4 Gs in the turns, wears an all carbon-fibre body, blitzes 0-100kph in less than three seconds, uses zero petrol and sets you back a million dollars. Well, a production version does.
This development model is priceless, uninsured and very much unfit for my hands. That’s why Mate is in the driver’s seat, laying down two pairs of elevens as the Concept One squirms down the road in clouds of 345-wide burnt Nittos.
The electric motors’ high-pitched wail gets progressively louder with the throttle pinned.
The noise gets more and more intimidating with each decibel rise as the realisation that you’re about to be hit with over a thousand horsepower looms. It sounds like a jet engine’s turbine whistling at start-up. This is one all-electric vehicle pedestrians will definitely hear coming even though they might miss seeing it.
I’ve never experienced a Bugatti Veyron demolishing 0-100kph times, but Mate is trying his hardest to ensure I haven’t been missing much — the Concept One is stupid fast and between chuckling uncontrollably while pinned to my seat
for half an hour, Mate and I managed to put immaturity to one side and have a chat.
It doesn’t take much time to realise I’m sharing a ride with a genius. Unlike Tesla or Fisker, Mate didn’t have half a billion dollars in government grants to play with. While those two US alternative-energy auto companies were getting their financial aid, Mate was toiling away in his car garage.
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Rimac Automobili is based in the central European country of Croatia, where the economy is dominated by the service sector and €15 billion (Dh72 billion) of annual imports far outweigh the €9 billion exports. With a population of four million or so, nobody in Croatia can step-up to Rimac Automobili’s supplier base, and there is no motoring industry to speak of.
“Really, Croatia lacks any kind of industry, no high-technology industry at all. Not only that, but we didn’t even have the manpower, the engineers who had the know-how to work with us. There was nobody who I could employ. So we had to start from nothing and just gain all the knowledge from scratch,” Mate says.
“I learned by doing. There isn’t a place where you can learn to make the fastest electric car on the planet, you just have to go ahead and try it. Of course, we made many mistakes and had many problems. Things blew up, but you improve it, you make more mistakes, you learn… It’s a process.”
When Rimac Automobili announced the Concept One there was talk of unprecedented power figures. The company has now changed its philosophy. So instead of 3,600Nm of torque, the car has 1,600Nm in order to have less weight in the electric motors and provide the power over a broader operating range, from zero revs all the way to 6,500rpm. “1,600Nm is still a lot — enough to burn all four tyres,” he reminds me, while burning all four tyres.
“Because we didn’t know what we were doing at the beginning I hired a former BMW engineer, an ex-Formula 1 engineer with a salary much higher than any of my guys. That was a huge mistake. He couldn’t work in our environment. We were so fast and flexible and innovative, looking at things from a completely different angle precisely because we hadn’t worked in huge companies before. We were dynamic, and in the end that turned out to be a big advantage.”
Rimac is now a miscellany of talents with one engineer who used to design unmanned army drones and robot vehicles, and other engineers who came from outside the automotive field to bring unique viewpoints of the company.
So Rimac Automobili started without any help from suppliers because they didn’t exist, but today the company is a supplier of electric motor systems, system controllers, battery packs, battery management systems, and complex Power Distribution Units — even to the industry giants. It’s a typical Mate Rimac case of ‘if you want something done, do it yourself’.
This is why Mate is here in the Middle East in the first place, and not just looking for deep-pocketed customers. He claims there’s enough demand already with people trying to convince him to sell the prototype, blank cheque and all. What Mate wants instead are investors to help him speed up developments and launch new products.
Rimac plans new models every three years or so, which include bikes and a flagship model that will be bigger and even more extreme, scheduled for next year and limited to 88 models.
“Supercars tend to be very comical, for example the Aventadors, the Paganis. They’re a little bit too much for me. When I met Adriano Mudri, our designer, and he started to design the car I was still a one-man band. Adriano used to work for Magna, Qoros, Opel and GM, and even had a stint with Lamborghini,” Mate says.
“We decided to design the car before this was even a company, when I was still in a car garage. I just told him I want the car to be elegant and not like a comic. Every part has to have a function, every detail, no fake air intakes or anything like that. For example, I think the Aventador’s design is going to wear out fast, become outdated, and that’s something I didn’t want for my car, I wanted it to be timeless.”
He also insisted on parts befitting a million-dollar supercar limited to eight pieces, and just one exclusively allocated to the UAE. “I didn’t want any off-the shelf parts in our cars. I designed our own entertainment system, the cameras, everything.
Each button is even milled from solid aluminium, the pedals are milled from aluminium, the suspension parts, the push-rods, the suspension arms, upright, everything is custom designed for this car. And we do everything in-house, including the carbon fibre parts. That’s why each car takes five to six months to manufacture.”
Electric power has always intrigued Mate, but not for the reasons you normally associate zero-emissions motoring with. “My opinion about electric cars in general is that in the next decade maybe one or two per cent of the global market will be electric city cars,” he says. “I didn’t choose electricity for saving petrol or because of environmental reasons.
I chose it for performance. I chose it for the ability to control each wheel separately, very precisely, 1,000 times per second in both directions, because electric motors can brake and accelerate at the same time. In one millisecond the left rear wheel can have 100 per cent of the power and the front right wheel can time brake at the same to get the car through the corner faster.”
And then he drops a bomb. “I’m not a fan of electric cars,” he says. “Electric vehicles for environmental reasons and all that… that’s all complete rubbish. The most environmentally friendly car is a second-hand car. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about hybrids or electric vehicles, it doesn’t make any difference.”
However thrilling our ride in the Concept One is today, the electrifying acceleration never getting old, it’s the man that really impresses maybe even more than the machine. “You know, it takes just one guy,” he muses. “If Enzo wasn’t born there would be no Ferrari. If Ferdinand wasn’t born there would be no Porsche.
I was born in Croatia, and yes maybe that’s a hurdle, but I’m trying to change people’s perceptions.” For us they are extremely positive, even if this particular Concept One is far from the end result. “You may see a nice car, but I see a million problems, a million improvements waiting to happen, and it is being improved on and on.”
For production cars, and indeed this prototype, Rimac offers two range options. One model can manage 240km and the other 600km, but not if you’re doing burnouts everywhere, as we are. The car can be recharged with a normal outlet or at a charging station, which charges the car from zero to 100 per cent in 40 minutes.
Worst-case scenario, it takes more than 15 hours, but Mate has a positive stance on that too. “I always say it takes five seconds. You get out and you plug it in. That takes five seconds. You go to sleep and tomorrow, it’s charged.”
Now, car executives normally squirm away from talking about rival companies. Rolls-Royce and Bentley can write essays on why they have no rivals elevating themselves to superlative statuses, and supercar brands will slyly deny having any rivals calling on each of their own prestigious histories to claim that nobody can offer what they can. When asked who his rivals are Mate shoots these words out of his mouth like a rifle, “Bugatti, Pagani and Koenigsegg.”
“It’s a small industry, and I am good friends with Horacio Pagani and Christian von Koenigsegg. I love their cars. When I started to do this they were — how should I say this — not my idols, but I was looking up to them. Technology-wise the Bugatti Veyron was our benchmark. I love the Bugatti… Some guys who worked on the Veyron are now working on our next model.”
“But all of these concepts are the same,” he continues, “Monocoque chassis, petrol engine in the middle, seven-speed gearbox, this is all proven technology... We are doing something completely different. And we will probably always stick to supercars. I just want to make supercars,” he says, shrugging his shoulders, pulling off another burnout.
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