Building a concept car is a tricky endeavor, even under the best of circumstances, because it requires a significant investment in time and resources. When the organization is a start-up rather than an established manufacturer, and it's led by a very, very young engineer, the task looks even more daunting. But Rimac Automobili founder Mate Rimac strongly believes in the potential of electric cars, and set out to prove that they can deliver power and reliability worthy of his claim that the Concept_One is "the sports car of the 21st century" [source: Isaccson].
Mate Rimac decided to design from scratch, and hand-build, the best car possible. He started working on the Concept_One when he was just 21 years old [source: Rimac Automobili]. The Concept_One is an ambitious project for an engineer of Rimac's age, but he had a string of earlier accomplishments that helped fuel his fire. Rimac began winning international engineering competitions in high school. At age 19, he converted a 1984 BMW E30 to electric power, and the car holds the Guinness Book of World Records title for fastest electric car. The BMW project was financed by a new car mirror system that Rimac designed and licensed to an auto parts manufacturer.
Rimac was inspired by Nikola Tesla, the electrical engineer whose inventions have stoked the fire for other automakers (including one automaker that, not coincidentally, shares his name). Rimac admits that there's nothing environmentally friendly about his car, and that power and performance are the real motivation behind the Concept_One [source: Isaccson]. An electric motor just happens to be simpler than a traditional internal combustion engine, and the electric power source delivers instant gratification.
Since electric cars were initially all about efficiency, they were sized and styled to match that image. Tesla might have been the first auto manufacturer to make people realize that a fully electric car could still deliver solid performance, and at a price that was easy for most luxury car shoppers to swallow. The Rimac Concept_One, however, is a whole different story. With a $980,000 price tag and amazing performance specs, this car isn't even attempting to masquerade as a responsible choice. And if you've got almost a million dollars to spend on a supercar, you'll find that electric is still better than gasoline ... but it would take a lot of solar panels and wind turbines to feed 1,088 ponies that are capable of leaving a Ferrari in the dust. Top speed is 190 miles per hour (305.8 kilometers per hour), according to Rimac, and the car can go from 0 to 60 miles per hour (0 to 96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 2.8 seconds. These numbers fall just shy of the Bugatti Veyron.
The Rimac Concept_One is anticipated to be for sale by the end of 2015, with a projected production run of only 88 units. A prototype has been built, but production versions of the Concept_One haven't been completed yet -- the company is currently taking reservations and deposits.
Some Twentysomethings Like to Party ...
... while others build million-dollar sports cars.
There are plenty of obvious reasons why the Concept_One is a worthy object of lust, but young, aspiring car designers should pay attention to Rimac for yet another reason. The designer of the Concept_One, Mate Rimac, is just 24 years old. An example of Rimac's previous work on vehicles includes a BMW converted to electric power -- one that was capable of accelerating from 0 to 60 miles per hour (96.6 kilometers per hour) in just 3.3 seconds and achieving a top speed of 174 miles per hour (280 kilometers per hour). This was initially a personal project, but it turned into a manifesto of sorts for the company that would form around it. The BMW build took six months with parts that were already available, but they couldn't deliver the performance Mate Rimac needed for his personal racing. Whenever something broke, Rimac designed and made his own parts, improving the car's speed and reliability. The electric E30 got enough attention that an investor approached Rimac and asked him to start a car company, resulting in the development of the Concept_One.
Rimac Automobili, based in Croatia, is now a small start-up with a hands-on culture. Experienced auto industry types have shown they aren't a good fit for the company's approach (with the exception of the head of the sales department, who joined Rimac after working with Tesla Motors). Rimac says that the company had a huge advantage since they were working from a clean slate. Though there were potential investors, cash flow was still tight, so Rimac's team had to be careful, especially considering they had a self-imposed deadline to complete the prototype in time for the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2011. The prototype featured luxury touches, like self-closing doors and a camera system that replaced the mirrors. Rimac Automobili designs almost all of the parts for the Concept_One, and most of the components are also manufactured in-house. These skills come in handy, because Rimac Automobili also supplies components to other vehicle manufacturers. The company has supplied batteries to a train manufacturer and is working on an innovative new brake system technology. Rimac also plans to produce its electric motors for other auto manufacturers, and is working on an $8,000 electric bicycle. This strategy is necessary to keep the company going, since Rimac Automobili doesn't have the government subsidies or bank loans that keep other vehicle manufacturers (especially electric vehicle makers) afloat when cash flow is low and future sales are only theoretical.
The small yet dynamic company perceives the Concept_One as a supercar competitor, rather than chasing after the handful of well-heeled, yet environmentally sympathetic, fans of electric cars. And despite Mate Rimac's deep and open admiration of Nikola Tesla, he doesn't consider Tesla Motors a factor in, or a motivation for, his company's potential success. Like Tesla Motors, though, Rimac Automobili is working on new models and trying to find ways to bring down the car's sticker price. And Mate Rimac has said that it's important to keep the company headquarters in Croatia, to provide opportunities for other young Croatians.
Not Your Average Electric
We've already talked a little about how Rimac is different from other electric vehicle manufacturers. In plain terms, Rimac isn't going for the environmentally friendly angle. It's all about the juice. Don't kid yourself thinking of meek little hybrids or golf-kart-like electric city cars. Electric motors offer a lot of performance and efficiency benefits over combustion engines. And that's why Mate Rimac chose to work with them. If you're looking for a light environmental footprint, a small electric motor can do that ... but if you're looking for speed, a much bigger and more expensive electric motor might be your answer.
Permanent magnet electric motors, the type used in the Concept_One, respond quickly to driver input, and they also boast a wide power band and a lot of torque. They're much smaller than a typical gasoline-powered engine and transmission, which simplifies design and engineering. And they provide regenerative braking functionality, which means that some of the power from deceleration is captured and reused, which improves efficiency.
Most mainstream electric vehicles feature just one motor, and though it might not be situated directly under the hood, the layout is typically pretty similar to that of a gas-powered car. Not so with Rimac, who has designed a system called All Wheel Torque Vectoring. Each of the Concept_One's four wheels has its own oil-cooled motor, inverter and reduction gearbox. And they operate completely independently of each other; although, each motor has an ECU (electronic control unit) that is networked to a system of sensors all over the car. It sounds like the car is doing most of the work, but the driver can change between understeer, neutral and oversteer modes. The driving mode system is a safety feature as well as a fun feature, since it reacts to the driver's selection faster than a traditional electronic stability control system could. All Wheel Torque Vectoring enables each wheel to operate independently, and it also eliminates the shift time lag that every spirited driver dreads. Because the power source isn't front and center (or rear and center, or even mid-center) the Concept_One has better weight distribution and a very low center of gravity, both of which help deliver great handling.
Rimac Automobili designed all of the components for the Concept_One, which wasn't easy, but the battery was among the biggest challenges. Rimac wanted the Concept_One to store plenty of energy, but had to keep the battery small because of weight concerns. The result is a 92 kW battery that can deliver, or receive, more than a megawatt of power. Power delivery and storage are stable enough to take the Concept_One on the track. The battery also makes the Concept_One pretty usable -- it's not intended to be a garage queen. The car's maximum range is about 372.8 miles (600 kilometers); although, Rimac concedes that the car probably won't be driven at optimum efficiency, bringing the realistic range estimate to something more like 310.7 miles (500 kilometers). But that still edges out even the best-equipped Tesla Model S available. And while it wasn't designed as an eco-car, the Concept_One is estimated to achieve about 114 MPGe (miles per gallon equivalent).
High Power and Reliability -- Wrapped in Carbon Fiber
So, if sustainability isn't part of the agenda for an electric vehicle, then what is? The Rimac team focused on high power, low weight, and reliability, and once those goals were accomplished, they thought about the rest of the car. The Concept_One's exterior might not have been the highest priority, but its importance certainly wasn't overlooked. The body is constructed entirely of carbon fiber. That's a high-end material that pops up in plenty of sports and performance cars, but for the most part, it's used pretty sparingly and conspicuously because it's so expensive that it might as well be woven out of money. Rimac opted for carbon fiber because of its exclusivity as much as its strength and light weight. The car's underbody also features extensive use of carbon fiber, helping to keep the weight down. Then, Rimac decided that the body would be finished in two complementary colors to accentuate the car's profile and small stature, while an exposed carbon fiber accent area reveals a hint of the Concept_One's abilities (and economic stature). The front grill is ornamental, since the Concept_One doesn't need airflow under the hood to feed the engine, like a typical gasoline- or diesel-powered car does.
Rimac assembled a team of former Pininfarina employees to design the cabin. The Italian coachbuilding firm is renowned for coming up with interiors that swaddle the butts of even the most discerning customers. This resulted in a leather-draped, driver-centric cockpit -- because Concept_One drivers clearly wouldn't have it any other way. The ride height is electronically adjustable, not that a buyer will ever want to venture off road (but maybe it'll help if they spin off the track). All four brakes are ventilated ceramic discs, with 6-piston calipers up front and 4-piston calipers in back (so, maybe the driver won't go spinning off the track). And, in case of an outrageously expensive crash, front and side airbags will deploy and a safety disconnect system will kick in. The ECU system will monitor the entire car to make sure everything is functioning properly.
In short, the Rimac Concept_One is way more than an all-electric car has ever been before, and maybe even more than an electric car really needs to be. But it's definitely pushing the limits, and showing great potential. And Mate Rimac promises that it's really, really nice.
Author's Note: How the Rimac Concept One Will Work
Mate Rimac, the founder of Rimac Automobili and the designer of the Concept_One, doesn't really want to license out his company's inventions. He told The Wall Street Journal he has to, though, otherwise the company won't be able to survive [source: Isaacson]. It's too bad that the founder of an innovative company has to sacrifice his ideals (and at such a young age) but this may be a good thing for other companies interested in making electric cars -- and the consumers who might want to buy one, but don't have a million bucks to spare. If Rimac's electric car components really are the best, new and improved EVs can't be far behind.
- DeMorro, Christopher. "Rimac Concept One Production to Begin in 2015." CleanTechnica. Feb. 20, 2014. (June 29, 2014) http://cleantechnica.com/2014/02/20/rimac-concept-one-production-begin-2015/
- Isaacson, Andy. "Engineer Mate Rimac Revolutionizes Electric Cars." The Wall Street Journal. Nov. 7, 2013. (June 29, 2014) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702303376904579135881128871014
- Rimac Automobili. "Introduction to Concept_One." (June 29, 2014) http://www.rimac-automobili.com/concept_one/introduction-20
- Vijayenthiran, Viknesh. "1,088-HP Rimac Concept One Electric Car on Sale for $980,000." Motor Authority. May 1, 2014. (June 29, 2014) http://www.motorauthority.com/news/1075812_1088-hp-rimac-concept-one-electric-car-on-sale-for-980000