In 2008, Mate Rimac replaced the broken engine of his ageing BMW race car with an electric motor from a forklift truck. Today, the Croatian is the founder and chief executive of Rimac Automobili, a producer of electric hypercars and electric means (EV) drivetrains sold to some of the world’s most prestigious carmakers. He is also about to become the CEO of Bugatti, at the age of 33.
It would be fair to say Rimac currently flies below the radar of all but the keenest of petrolheads. But it is likely only a matter of time before his name is as ubiquitous as Elon Musk.
Headquartered in Croatia and with plans to build a sprawling campus-style base fit for 2,500 employees, Rimac Automobili was established in 2009. It is best-known to many for its Concept One, an electric hypercar once crashed by Top Gear’s Richard Hammond. A followup called the Nevera will go into production soon. But while that car is a 2,000 horsepower halo product, it is Rimac’s electric drivetrains that are poised to accelerate the firm into the mainstream.
The company has received investment from Porsche and Hyundai, both of which are customers, along with Aston Martin, Koenigsegg, Mercedes, Renault, Pininfarina, Jaguar and more. Harry and Meghan’s electric Jaguar E-kind wedding car was Rimac’s work.
A love for both cars and electronics was there from the start, but initially with no overlap. “Since I was a baby I was crazy about cars and always wanted to do something with cars,” Rimac says. “I cycled by wanting to be an F1 driver, a designer, an engineer for BMW. I just wanted to do anything with cars. Anything.”
At the same time, he was promoted by a school teacher to go into electronic innovation competitions, with great success. “I was the local champion then national champion and won international awards for the stuff I was doing when I was 17 years old. If my professor hadn’t sent me to those competitions I wouldn’t have the confidence to do something on my own.”
Rimac’s first business venture converted internal-combustion cars to electric, but he soon realised the numbers didn’t stack up. “I did three conversions then I stopped because I realised how bad it is from a technical and commercial standpoint. It doesn’t make any sense. I saw very early on that, using platforms that aren’t designed to be electric and making an EV out of it, is really bad”.
Not afraid of telling a century-old industry where it is going wrong, Rimac also applies this logic to car makers who nevertheless use the same platform for electric and internal combustion vehicles. “You see this with big OEMs (original equipment manufacturers). They are nevertheless complaining about bringing electric cars to market and how nobody buys them. Yes, because your electric cars suck.”
Rimac Automobili’s business form is currently one of two halves. The glamorous side produces ultra-scarce, multi-million euro electric hypercars, while the other half builds electric drivetrains – motors, batteries and software – for large-extent clients. There are also plans for independent technology, which will initially see the Nevera teach owners how to enhance their lap times.
Although Rimac is aware of the environmental benefits of driving electric cars, he is the first to let in there are better ways of reducing CO2 emissions. “Making electric cars is a drop in the ocean. It’s nothing. My view is, if you really want to change something about the ecosystem the easiest and fastest with the biggest impact is to not eat meat. Not driving an electric car.”
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