Croatia|17 Feb, 2015

The first electric hypercar

If you’re in the market for a million dollar hypercar, your options have never been better. But before you place a deposit with Ferrari, McLaren or Porsche for one of the devastatingly quick La Ferraris, P1s or 918s, you might want to consider a fourth option. And to make this even more interesting, this new pretender – unlike its hybrid rivals – is fully-electric.

If you’ve been to a Formula E race, you’ll have seen one of these eye-catching beauties lapping the track emblazoned with Race Director’s Car logos. If this is the first time you’ve set eyes on the dark blue meanie, the answer you’re looking for is – the Rimac Concept One.

There’s no denying it looks the part, and it goes as well as it looks. With the equivalent of over 1000bhp, the quad-motor driven Concept One sprints to 60mph in just 2.8 seconds and maxes out at 190mph.

The car is the brainchild of Mate Rimac and his design partner Adriano Mudri. Mate is just 27, but has already been building electric cars for 10 years.

“When I was 17 I made my first patent,” he recalls. “I was in high school and I had to do my Matura exam and my professor sent me off to a national competition for electronics, which I won. Then they sent me to international competitions, and I won many international awards and made a little bit of money.

“I was totally into electronics and into cars. So as soon as I was able to have my driving licence I bought an old BMW with a gas [internal combustion] engine to race. I used this car for drifting, and drag races and circuit races. And then the gas engine blew up and I decided to combine my two passions – electronics and cars. And since Nikola Tesla is from Croatia, I had read a lot about him, about electric motors and I was very fascinated about electric motors and thought that they would be a great source to power a sports car, not just a city car.”

Initially the BMW was a bit of a laughing stock among the Croatian racing community, and Rimac admits it suffered from a host of different problems initially. But as he developed the technology, so reliability and performance improved, and pretty soon this ‘silent assassin’ started to beat its V8 and V12-powered rivals.

“In the end I broke five world records with this car for the fastest accelerating electric car, which I still hold,” says Rimac.

After meeting designer Mudri at the end of 2010, Rimac set up Rimac Automobili, which is based in Zagreb County in his native Croatia. Having established the company, which supplements the income it receives from the handful of Concept Ones it builds each year by providing R&D services for a number of more established manufacturers, Rimac has ambitious plans to expand its product range significantly over the coming years.

“We are developing new high-volume models,” he says. “These will still be sportscars and supercars but higher volume. We want to launch one of the new models next year and every further year we want to launch a new model. And also a large part of our organisation is business to business, so we develop cars, batteries, motors, infotainment systems for other companies.”

While the Rimac name doesn’t yet carry the cache of Ferrari, McLaren or Porsche, what buyers of their cars get is the absolute cutting-edge in technology. The powertrain of the Concept One reads like something from the forthcoming Star Wars movie franchise reboot rather than the spec sheet from a car brochure.

“We have a very powerful powertrain system. It’s more than 800kW, which is more than 1000bhp,” Rimac explains. “This is distributed to four motors, each motor has its own gearbox. In the front we have single-speed gearboxes, in the rear each motor has a two-speed double carbon fibre clutch gearbox, which is very unique.

“We have two-speed transmission on the rear wheels for each side separately, which is unique. In electric cars you normally need to decide between acceleration or top speed when you have a single-speed gearbox. With the four independent drive systems it allows us to have torque vectoring, and this torque vectoring system is in itself traction control and ABS, so we can with the very precise control of each motor - 100 times per second - achieve completely new driving dynamics for the car.

“It’s what we are about, to do things in a new way and to make a better sportscar. Not just to make an electric version of the current sportscars – we really wanted to push the limits and make sportscars better, not just electric.”

Of course there’s the elephant in the room. Part of the hypercar ownership experience is the ostentatious soundtrack that accompanies the slightest blip of the throttle. The Rimac cannot compete in this area, but it doesn’t intend to. Much like the Formula E cars that produce a unique sound that you either love or hate, so the Concept One growls away in a manner that’s a sign of things to come, rather than the pinnacle of technologies past.

“It’s very easy to get used to it and when I get into another supercar after mine I feel that they are so much slower because the power is always available, the torque is available whenever you like, you don’t have to worry about gearchanges or which gear you are in before the corner or after the corner,” says Rimac, who gets to drive his fabulous creation around Formula E’s bespoke street tracks carrying illustrious passengers such as FIA president Jean Todt. 

“When I get into a McLaren or a Ferrari or something like this, the noise and the drama is very impressive but it’s just so much more analogue and you just feel when you are in our car that this is the future, that it is just so much better in every regard, not just in acceleration but the things that you can do with the control system with the torque vectoring – I like to power slide, to drift, to oversteer and the car helps to initiate the drift, to hold the drift, to do exactly what you want, so it’s a completely different level and I think that our car every car enthusiast will like it. Everybody asks me ‘what about the sound?’ It has sound, it’s different, but it’s not that quiet actually!”

But not only is Rimac a hotbed of technical innovation, it’s also considered to be a great place to work. In December 2014, the company was voted the best mid-sized employer in Croatia, following a staff satisfaction survey carried out Moj Posao.

So next time you’re at a Formula E race and you see a stunning blue car on track, what you’re witnessing is a glimpse into the future of not only road car technology, but also of employee/employer relations. And that’s a very positive outlook.