The Eastern European nation of Croatia is known for many things, especially its stunning tourist destinations. The city of Dubrovnik in Croatia was the primary filming location for the renowned television series Game of Thrones. What Croatia is not known for is its automobile manufacturing industry. However, there’s a man in his early thirties who’s quickly changing this notion and is playing an instrumental role in tuning Croatia a global hub for the electric vehicle industry. Meet Mate Rimac, a 33-year-old inventor of electric hypercars who is considered by many as one of the most influential personalities in the automotive world. Yet, Mate Rimac is still to achieve the celebrity status he deserves. Through this article, we would like to play our small role in recognizing the incredible accomplishments of this young entrepreneur and help predict how he might transform the EV industry in the coming years.
A genius from the land of Nikola Tesla
Nikola Tesla is widely considered the greatest innovator of all time. The Croatian-born engineer is best known for his contributions to the design of the modern alternating current (AC) electricity supply system – a reason why many EV companies are named after the great inventor.
So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Mate Rimac is also an admirer of Nikola Tesla and considers the innovator one of his biggest inspirations; especially, given that Mate is also from Croatia. Mate Rimac has been adamant that he’ll never move his EV company outside of Croatia, despite the poor automobile manufacturing ecosystem in the country. However, Mate Rimac wasn’t born in Croatia. The entrepreneur was born in one of the poorest regions of former Yugoslavia, and his family was forced to relocate to Germany after the war broke out in 1991. He was only three years old when Rimac’s family moved to Frankfurt, Germany, where he lived until 12.
The Rimac family moved to Samobor, Croatia, in 2000, where his father founded a real-estate company. His early days in the new country were fraught with challenges where he was bullied for his Bosnian accent. Young Mate kept himself distracted by working on innovative projects in his parent’s garage. However, his knack for innovation was discovered early high school teacher and later mentor, Ivan Vlainić, who convinced Mate to participate in electronics and innovation competitions.
Mate represented Croatia on the global stage, which sowed the seeds of entrepreneurship and innovation in the teenaged Rimac. He built several innovative devices, including iGlove that replaced the computer keyboard and mouse with a glove. He also won an award for inventing a rear-view mirror system for avoiding a vehicle’s blind spot, called Active Mirror System.
By the age of 17, he had applied for two international patents for his inventions. Mate Rimac admits that his high school teacher played an essential role in turning him into an innovator, and he might have never started the EV brand had he not met Ivan Vlainić.
The genesis of a billion-dollar idea
Mate Rimac was interested in automobiles and car racing from a very young age. He bought a 1984 BMW E30 323i at the age of 18 back in 2006 to race in local competitions. Back then, the old BMW seemed like the best and cheapest way to go racing. However, the BMW’s internal combustion engine blew during one race, forcing Mate to look for alternatives. The teenaged racing-enthusiast reached into his skills to innovate and decided to convert the BMW into an electric car, nicknamed e-M3. Initially, Mate was mocked for entering a converted electric car in races, calling the e-M3 a ‘washing machine.’ However, no one could have predicted that the electrified Beamer would go on to achieve celebrity status and instill the idea of starting an EV company in the mind of Mate Rimac. The e-M3 not only was very successful in races but went on to set several world records for electric cars, which brought the spotlight on Mate Rimac’s talents.
The birth of Rimac Automobili
After the success of e-M3, Mate Rimac decided to start an eponymous EV brand in 2009. However, the company didn’t have a single employee till 2011. He was still a 21-year-old university student with no funds to work on making cars. However, he met a designer working at GM named Adriano Mudri, who agreed to work on a fun and fast EV concept. By the end of 2010, the duo had developed the initial set of design renderings along with technical specifications. The electric BMW race car grabbed the attention of a fellow Croatian who ultimately got a wealthy Middle-Eastern royal family interested in Rimac’s conceptual EV hypercar. This brought in the much-needed funds to kickstart Rimac’s dream of building an electric hypercar company in Croatia. The first investment also helped Rimac hire the first few employees for the brand.
Concept One, a setback, and a blessing in disguise
Building supercars is a very expensive process that costs millions of dollars to build the first rolling prototype. Many new companies perish by failing to get enough funding. However, the Middle Eastern royal family’s investment gave Rimac Automobili enough money to start working on their first real car, the Rimac Concept One, or Rimac C_One. The company initially planned on making 88 examples of the all-electric hypercar with world-beating proposed specifications. However, the royal family was interested in moving the operations from Croatia to the Middle East and threatened to stop funding. Mate Rimac refused to budge, which resulted in losing the only investor the company had. This came as a significant setback for the company, which began to struggle with paying salaries, rent, and suppliers. The company, like many other hypercar manufacturers that came before it, almost had to shut shop. But Rimac had an idea to keep the lights on.
Taking inspiration from Enzo Ferrari, who was forced to build customer cars to fund his financially-struggling racing team, Rimac decided to offer EV technology to other automakers to bring in enough funds to keep his hypercar dream alive. This was a masterstroke. Soon major automakers started showing interest and lined up as customers. The Croatian manufacturer had to re-strategize and restrict the production of C_One to only eight examples. The C_One examples built by the company were basically technology demonstrators to grab the attention of potential investors and future buyers. Rimac still didn’t have money to homologate the car for road use and sell it to customers. The concept car traveled the world with different automotive publications testing the electric hypercar, and it got rave reviews from everyone.
Then came the day in 2017 when one of the C_Two prototypes was crashed by Richard Hammond while filming an episode of Top Gear. The car was burned to a crisp. Losing a $2 million car for a small manufacturer could prove to be a substantial financial burden. However, it proved to be a blessing in disguise. Top Gear’s immense popularity across the world got Rimac the much-needed attention, and the whole incident turned out to be a win-win situation for the Croatian manufacturer.
A rather infamous crash and the company’s first proper production hypercar – Rimac Nevera
The Richard Hammond crash made headlines for many months after the incident, and many of those who had never heard of Rimac knew of its existence. However, the company was also silently taking over the EV world. Rimac’s battery technology and EV knowhow were getting the industry-wide recognition it deserved, attracting significant investments from Porsche AG, Hyundai-Kia, and Camel Group – one of Asia’s largest battery manufacturers.
In 2018, the company showcased its next-generation electric hypercar, which was named C_Two back then. It was an evolution of the C_One, designed from the ground up to enter into production. The company also entered into a technical partnership with Automobili Pininfarina to help the company build its first production hypercar. The Pininfarina Batista is based on the same architecture and uses the same EV components as The Nevera.
This deal was essential to bring more funds into Rimac Automobili to continue developing the C_Two. But there’s something much bigger cooking behind the doors – more on that later. As of 2021, the C_Two’s production-ready version has been renamed Nevera and is in the final stages of development. In just ten years, the company has gone from no employee to staff-strength of 900 people, from a tiny start-up working on design rendering to building hypercars worth millions of dollars.
The beginning of chapter two: A colossal deal that could change the entire hypercar industry
Mate Rimac has been open about his admiration for the likes of Christian von Koenigsegg and Horacio Pagani who battled against all the odds to create two of the most iconic hypercar brands – Koenigsegg and Pagani. As a kid idolizing the two automotive giants, Mate Rimac dreamt of matching their greatness.
Many people from the automobile industry see Mate Rimac as a successor to Ettore Bugatti – the founder of Bugatti. Little did anyone know that one day Mate Rimac will take the stewardship of iconic automobile brand Bugatti that was founded 112 years ago. The VW group has had an eye on Rimac Automobili for quite a few years and has been interested in getting their hands on the Croatian manufacturer’s EV technology. As a result, Porsche, a part of the VW Group, has become the biggest investor in the brand.
However, Bugatti, which Porsche helmed under the VW umbrella, needed to make itself futureproof by electrifying its next hypercar. This meant an infusion of billions of dollars into development, which could have resulted in a futile effort.
Thus, Porsche saw the opportunity to use Rimac’s EV technology to save the prestigious marque Bugatti. Finally, in July this year, the merger of Rimac and Bugatti was announced with the formation of a new joint venture called ‘Rimac Bugatti.’
By the age of 33, Mate Rimac had already started a successful hypercar company, created innovative EV technology in huge demand amongst legacy automakers, and even took over a legendary manufacturer like Bugatti. What he has accomplished at such a tender age is staggering. But Mate insists it’s still just the first phase of his grand vision.
So, what next? Mate Rimac is often compared with Elon Musk and projected as one of his greatest competitors. Yet, Rimac can play a much more significant role in the automobile industry in the coming years. One of his most important contributions would be helping other automobile manufacturers transition to EV from combustion-engine-powered cars.
His initial plan was to create an EV brand with an extensive lineup of cars for all segments, and he might also fulfill that dream over the next few years. We won’t be surprised if Mate Rimac goes down in history as one of the greatest personalities in the world of automobiles!