"Let's go for a bike ride, you'll see how fast it goes," said a bearded 27-year-old in shorts, who walked into the Rimac Automotive car dealership. By bike? But we're here for a car...
That, of course, was Mate Rimac, the father and owner of a Croatian company that does not only produce electric super sport cars, like the Rimac Concept_One. As it later turned out, in addition to four-wheeled vehicles, they also produce two-wheeled ones, and not only for solid ground, but also for moving on water. Concept_One represents only a small portion of what they produce, although it is the most noticeable and the most expensive product at the moment. It was also the most difficult one to catch a glimpse of, since it appeared in the middle of the Formula 1 season, and the only existing Concept_One was travelling around the world, used as the race director's company car. Already on its way to the next race, it had left the factory on a car trailer even before we'd finished our tour.
It then waited for us at the car showroom, which doubles as a workshop, where Concept_One is maintained. The hall was as white and clean as a surgical room. Had they told me that this was where they produce Formula 1 cars, I would have believed it. The view was spoiled only by three dogs that came in early in the morning and, with an air of familiarity, took their places at the workers' feet. "They are not ours, but are always welcome," said Miro Zrnčević, with a laugh. He is still active as a drifting driver, with a collection of trophies and a dream job: handling PR and test driving for Rimac Automotive. The atmosphere in the factory was relaxed, and so was Mate Rimac, when he joined us.
We usually picture company and factory managers as energetic men in fancy suits, yet the fellow who approached us was a bearded youngster annoyed with the morning's sunshine. The energy that he is famous for regrettably wasn't there, as he was not feeling well; too much travelling, stress and a virus on top of it all had taken their toll. But hey, this is a 27-year-old with his own factory, where he built his own bike and a super sports car! With my 42 years, I'd be satisfied if I could put together a bike following the instruction manual. He started inventing things early on in his youth, and earned his first money as an innovator who sold patents while studying mechatronics.
His studies are also what inspired one of his first projects and earned him international recognition: a glove that senses hand and finger movement, and can replace a keyboard or, for example, a mouse. Naturally, he was also interested in cars. The roots of Concept_One stem from drifting. Seriously, drifting competitions were where Rimac was first spotted, in what was not even remotely a supercar.
The old BMW E30's engine could not handle the strain of drifting (or drag racing, for that matter) but instead of replacing it, Rimac simply reconstructed it into an electric car. He built a masterpiece capable of around 650 hp, which helped him break 5 (yes, five) world records. The records were sanctioned by the international organization FIA, and the car was assembled, dismantled and put back together in improved versions at least five times. Yet Rimac was never completely satisfied. Why drifting and drag races? "Other auto racing sports are fairly limited, regarding approval tests which have to be rubber-stamped by the FIA, whereas here the rules are loose," explained Rimac.
The development was, therefore, easier. So, Concept_One. Rimac used his knowledge, which he generously shares with other factories (more on that later) to build a car that does not growl but – almost inaudibly – disappears in a blink. It would be a lie to say that it is completely quiet: the noise of four electro engines is relatively distinctive, and even more so the sound of shifting, since the supercar contains a straight cogwheel transmission. Consequently, the car bangs when you shift it, and jumps as if the car had just been fed an energy bar, producing more endurance and a lot more noise. "The production version will have normal gears and will be a lot quieter. This one is like this because it's a prototype, and is used on the racetracks a great deal," he explained.
Six Concept_Ones, at a quarter million dollars each, have already been sold, with two more on the way, before they move on to a new project. Curious as to what it might be? Its working name is C2, it will have a carbon fiber monocoque, and it will leave you (or should I say us?) speechless. There is the aspiration to build a fully-autonomous car that would no doubt be a wild one, yet that is the future and Concept_One is the present.
The first Concept exhibited in the factory's hall (a version prior to its being named Concept_One) has a 500 kW electric engine and rear-wheel drive. After making it, the crew undertook an ambitious plan: to make the best electric super sports car in the world. Concept_One was thus born. Each wheel is powered by an electric motor, and there really is a lot of power:
2 × 300 kW in the back and 2 × 250 kW in the front, making up a total of 800 kW system output, or 1088 hp. The front-wheel drive is installed via motor speed reducers directly to the wheels, and the rear axle has a two-speed transmission, with two clutches made of carbon fiber. Only the best battery cells are bought, and then the batteries developed in the factory, together with the necessary electronics. The same applies to the electric engines and their electronics, and to the electronics that operate the entire car. This is where they excel. The car has All Wheel Torque Vectoring, which means independent torque for each wheel. With the help of different sensors, the electro engine increases or decreases each wheel's power at any given moment, thus ensuring optimal contact with the road. Miro says that, despite the horsepower, this is a car that would be difficult to spin on the road, yet we know that a car is only as safe as its driver. Concept_One has three driving modes: safe, neutral and, of course, drift, which could be called "tire shredding mode." No surprise there, since the owner and his main test driver have roots in drifting. Mate's wish for dynamics, adrenaline and fun behind the wheel is evident. But look at that, Mate does not even have his own vehicle, let alone a super sports car or luxury limo, and usually drives company cars. In fact, he prefers to be driven to and from work by his girlfriend, who drives a Mini Cooper S.
A little bird also told us that the developers fear Mate's test-drives with the Concept_One, as he inevitably comes into the factory afterwards and, like a true perfectionist, demands improvements. His co-workers then have to calm him down, otherwise they would never build a new car, but just continue developing the old one. Who are his co-workers? Rimac has just shy of 100 employees. Most are top-notch engineers and development programmers, and the test driver, Miroslav, at 33 years. old, is the oldest of them all! The factory employs about 80% of all students that participated in the Croatian project, Student Formula. It is interesting to note that only the designers are foreign. The interior of the Concept_One was designed by Goran Popović, who had worked for the designer bureau, Pininfarina. The half-lying position of the driver, the big central screen (that can pull up 57 different pieces of data or graphs) and the shell-shaped seats contain extra leather, provided and installed by Vilner Company. Top-notch.
There is, of course, no rest at the factory and, shortly, they will buy an autoclave for the carbon parts. The answer to the question of whether it would not be easier to simply buy the main car parts was clear: "Nobody sells the latest technology. Our supplier of electronics and infotainment would sell us one generation old electronics, and we would have to pay 5 to 6 million Euros for it. That's a lot of money for something that is already history," said Zrnčević. If you want to progress, you need to invent and work hard. Or, as Mate Rimac says, the idea accounts for 1%, the other 99% is hard work, inquisitiveness and, naturally, stubbornness.
Before we became privy to all these secrets, we had to earn them. By bike. I had already started thinking how great it was that I ride in the thousands of kilometers each year, when it turned out that it would not matter if I rode only to the store and back once a week, because Greyp is an electric bike. Actually, it's a race car among electric bikes, as it has a 1.3 kW battery and an electric engine that allows 70 km/h top speed. "It allows 25 km/h drive on bike lanes, without a helmet and registration. You can also drive it up to 70 km/h, without having to push the pedals, simply by pressing a button," said Rimac, as we sped along the road. Wow, this is fun, I thought when, after a quick start, my head remained on the spot, while my body was already on the other side of the village. The grey area that Greyp inhabits makes it all even more fun: the 48 kg bike does not have to be registered as a motorcycle, although it will be difficult to dodge a fine, if a cop catches you doing 70 km/h. Starting and unlocking the bike is also interesting, as it works by using fingerprints (it allows up to 50 users, each with their own limitations), as is the top-notch battery, that is filled in 80 minutes and enables 120 km range.
Not to mention the price, starting at 6500 euros. With some additional equipment, that quickly amounts to more than 10,000. Who the heck buys such a bike? Buyers are obviously not scarce, for 80 bikes have already been made. The production of an improved version, with a 1.5 kW engine, better electronics and better front suspension, is also just around the corner. One of the Greyp owners is Christian von Koenigsegg who is (like Rimac) the owner, soul and chief developer of the car brand that bears his name. They produce the fastest supercars in the world. Their latest beauty, Koenigsegg Regera, is a hybrid super sports car, and its electric part is full of technology that was developed at Rimac Automotive. The internal combustion engine and the electro engine ensure 1500 hp. The acceleration from 0 to 400 km/h in 20 seconds makes it feel as if you were riding a space rocket headed to the moon. In the honor of their cooperation, Rimac made a special Greyp in Koenigsegg colors, especially for Christian.
Mate Rimac, naturally, has not forgotten about racing. The first electric car awaits enough "free time" to get a superior renovation. In the meantime, the Rimac factory started a new racing venture. The Japanese racer, Nobuhiro "Monster" Tajima, is synonymous with crazy racing. He worked closely with the Suzuki factory team in rally, and then specialized in winning and record-breaking on the most famous, and the most difficult mountain race, Pike's Peak. A few years back, he started doing all that with electric cars, instead of the classical ones. As he was not as successful as he wished (last year Sebastian Loeb, the nine-time rally champion, broke his record with a race car with a classical drive), Tajima called Rimac for help.
A race car without a powertrain was delivered to the factory and, four months later, a monster was born: 1500 kg and 1.1 MW engine (comparable to about 1500 hp in classical engines with internal combustion) ensure the acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h in only 2.2 seconds, and to 200 km/h in 5.4. The four-wheel drive and torque equalization are on each wheel, separately. A bow to the 64-year-old Japanese, who dares to take such a rocket to the mountain race where, despite the 4300 m altitude and the menacing precipices along the road, there are no crash barriers. "I tested it on the race-track and to be honest, believe me, the million-times-covered track revealed new curves that, to a normal car, seem only a slightly curved straight," added Zrnčević with wide eyes. Tajima was, of course, thrilled. How did Rimac feel sitting behind the wheel? "We made a top-quality race car but, due to the business trips and the demands of the development, I haven't been able to test it yet." And they say that money and power corrupt people!
Do you still remember the innovative glove that doubtless caused a lot of sleepless nights? Well, he might as well throw down that gauntlet and thus challenge his competitors to make the best (electric) supercar. Guess who would win...