When one thinks of car industry pioneers, Croatia isn't the first thing that comes to mind. After all, for decades the symbol of the former Yugoslavia’s car industry was the Yugo – a small car built by the state-owned Zastava motors that was dubbed “the worst car in history” or “the Mona Lisa of bad cars”. Yet in 2009 a young Croatian innovator called Mate Rimac burst onto the scene with a bold idea of building high-performance electric sports cars that would one day become “the best supercar of the 21st century”.
Rimac Automobili grew out of the 28-year-old entrepreneur’s hobby of building and racing electric cars, which began after he converted his BMW 3 Series into an electric car. He won his first race against gasoline-powered cars in 2010 with the prototype, realizing in the process that in order to create his electric supercar he’d need to develop most of the technology and know-how from scratch.
Today, his company, based in Sveta Nedjelja, a small town near Zagreb, provides technological solutions and components to a wide range of successful car manufacturers across the globe, such as Swedish producer of high-performance sport cars Koenigsegg, or W Motors, known for being the maker of the most expensive sports car in the world, the Lykan. “Our cars and technology are both equally important to our business,” Monika Mikac, the chief operating officer of Rimac, tells bne IntelliNews in an interview.
While designing and building drivetrain and battery systems for vehicle makers around the world remains its core business, Rimac’s own range of cars are becoming more renowned. Concept One, unveiled at the 2010 Frankfurt Motor Show, was considered by many in the industry to be a product of breath-taking technological innovation, the first electric car to reach 100km/h in only 2.8 seconds. An even more powerful model, the Concept S, exhibited at the Geneva motor show in 2016, is lighter and more powerful, boasting a total output of 1,088 hp, acceleration of 0-100 km/h in 2.5 seconds, and a maximum speed of 365 km/h.
Both models showcase the potential of Rimac’s technological prowess, though neither is intended for mass production yet, with only eight Concept One cars and two Concept S cars set to roll off the Rimac production line for the foreseeable future. The price tag is one of the main reasons for such a limited run. “So far, five pre-orders have been placed for the Concept One, one for the Concept S. The price of the first model is €850,000, while the exact price of the Concept S model depends on all the optional extras, but exceeds €1mn,” explains Mikac.
And there appears to be no plans to see these prices fall to levels that the regular car buyer might be able to afford. “We are planning to start mass production of our technologies and components, but our cars will always remain high-end products,” clarifies Mikac.
Staying in Croatia
Given the cars’ limited production run, the company can’t rely on organic sales to fund the launch of new products and technologies. So to foster further development of the company, Rimac brought in outside investors. In the first round of investment, the company raised €10mn from several investors, with 23% of the company’s shares in the hands of foreign investors. Among them are the South American energy mogul Frank Kanayet Yepes; Tak Cheung Yam, the new majority stake holder in Forbes Media; China Dynamics, a company active in the electric vehicle industry in China; and Sinocop Resources, a minerals and metals company.
The investors are no doubt pleased with the company’s growth. In 2015, Rimac’s profits soared 300% to HRK1.96mn (€261,000), while the headcount has risen to more than 150 compared with the eight back in 2011 when the first car was unveiled in Frankfurt.
The company is now considering expanding through the construction of a new production plant to mass produce car components as well as their range of electric bikes, developed through Rimac subsidiary Greyp Bikes, which sell for approximately €8,000. So far, almost all parts of the vehicles – from chassis, to suspension, to carbon components – have been designed and manufactured in-house or by one of the company’s suppliers, all based in Croatia. And this is set to remain the case.
“One of the potential investor’s condition was that we transfer our headquarters out of Croatia, which would make the whole investment process much easier,” explains Mikac, adding that while the company is prepared to set up its development and sales offices abroad, it “would never accept to move the production nor the development centre out of Croatia”.
Even though “running a successful business in Croatia has proven to be challenging”, Mikac concedes, the founder Rimac and his employees want to set an example for other Croatian entrepreneurs in how to succeed.