Croatian entrepreneur Mate Rimac is often compared to Tesla founder and CEO Elon Musk. The Rimac Automobili boss admires Musk, but becoming a large-scale electric automaker is not his plan, despite proving his expertise with his debut vehicle, the 1224-hp Concept One electric hypercar. He will stay out of the mass market because he believes the automotive industry will change drastically in the future and because he does not want to compete with his growing list of global customers, which includes Rimac investors Porsche and Hyundai. Instead, he told Automotive News Europe Correspondent Nick Gibbs he wants to help them build faster, better electric cars.
Do you collaborate with car companies because you want to carry on making hypercars? Or are hypercars your way of advertising?
We started collaborating out of necessity to keep the company alive. But now I enjoy playing a role in shaping the future of the car industry. I was born a car guy. When I walked through the Geneva auto show before setting up Rimac, I had no idea what was going on behind the curtain. Now I know. It's cool to build your own car, but we can have a bigger impact by collaborating with these big companies and helping them make electric and hybrid cars.
Which automotive entrepreneurs do you have the most affinity with?
Just Elon Musk. I looked up to [electric supply pioneer] Nikola Tesla when I started. I'm from Croatia, like he was. When I started, I also looked up to [supercar company founders] Christian von Koenigsegg and Horacio Pagani. They were my big heroes. Today we are friends and we do things together, but what we at Rimac are trying to do now is something that goes beyond building a supercar company.
So far you have succeeded. Why have others failed?
We have been on the brink constantly. Our odds of survival were probably in the single-digit zone most of the time. And what are they now, 30 percent to 40 percent? For the first six years I never had enough money to pay our guys their next salaries. I was late paying suppliers and the electricity company. The electricity company came to shut off the power. It's incredible we are still here.
Why have you succeeded?
Maybe because I didn't do anything else. I was 19 when I started. If you ask a guy from BMW he will tell you it takes 50 million euros to develop a light. I went to Hella and asked if they could make a light for my car and they laughed at me. So, we had to do things in a different way, because I knew I couldn't pay anybody to do it for us. As a result, we created the value ourselves so we could sell the components and know-how to other car companies.
Do you have more electrification expertise than the global automakers?
No, we are just focused on a specific area, which is high-performance powertrains. They have to worry about other things. They have to worry about unions and giving their staff work. These are different problems than the ones we have. We are not smarter.
Could you build your own range of cars?
We don't want to go to a higher volume with our cars for several reasons. One of them is that we don't want to compete with our customers. As long as we are below 100 cars a year, they don't care. Second, I truly believe mobility will change completely. It doesn't make sense today to start a company to sell mass-produced vehicles because I'm convinced people will not own cars and people will not drive cars in the future. Yes, we are developing batteries and powertrains for higher volumes, and allowing automakers to make their own electric and hybrid cars. But we are thinking of ways to go beyond that.
Porsche now has a 15.5 percent stake in Rimac. It has a lot of experience of its own in high-performance batteries from its LMP1 racing program. What could you offer that they didn't have?
That was a question that a lot of people inside Porsche were asking as well. Why do we need a little Croatian company? We are Porsche. When they went through the supplier quality audit, they asked: "Do you do this? Do you do that?" I was like, "Guys, if we had all of this, we would be exactly the same as you. So why would you invest in us?" A small, young company like us doesn't have all of the processes of a big car company. We are different because we do things differently.
How did you change minds at Porsche?
They gave us a challenge at the beginning: "This is a new car that we are developing. Make it better. You have three months." Basically, they gave us an impossible task.
Was that car the Taycan?
No. I can't say what it was. However, we managed to surprise them with the timing and the performance of what we did. We are not necessarily better than them, we are different. We are helping each other. It is such a huge challenge to transition from combustion to hybrid and electric because there is so much to do. They can't do it on their own. They will take any help they can get. Also, we are focused on pushing the limits of performance. They are a premium brand, but they are still more focused on cost effectiveness and other areas like that.