Mate Rimac can’t help but be distracted. Cars fly around the corner behind me as they wind up the racecourse climb past Goodwood House. The deafening roars and cheering crowds testify to the power and appeal of the internal combustion engine.
Rimac is not, a priori, unlike many young people who attend this event, the Festival of Speed. Twenty years ago, he had posters of the fastest machines on his bedroom wall. Yet now, at just 34, he is in the midst of auto industry efforts to ditch petrol and switch to batteries.
At £2million, the Rimac Group’s Nevera electric hypercar is one of the most exclusive road-legal toys the ultra-rich can buy. He also controls Bugatti, one of the most famous brands in the hypercar world, after two dizzying decades that saw a refugee childhood in Bosnia rise to the top of the automotive industry.
Rimac has been making waves for several years as a maker of eye-catching electric sports cars and a supplier of battery technology to long-established names such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Cupra, part of the Volkswagen Group. His position was cemented last July when VW handed him majority control of Bugatti, the maker of one of the world’s fastest cars, the Chiron. In June, SoftBank and Goldman Sachs led a $500 million investment in his namesake company, valuing it at $2 billion.
He’s even starting to get some celebrity style recognition. It’s becoming a household name in Croatia: when French President Emmanuel Macron visited the country last year, Rimac showed him a Nevera. Some car fans at Goodwood even stop for selfies while he waits in the dusty field of
Family Married to Katarina.
Education VERN University of Applied Sciences in Zagreb, 2007-10 (dropped out).
Pay “I have never been the highest paid person in the company… When creating Bugatti Rimac, I wanted to work for free. But the shareholders insisted that I receive a salary… As far as my personal wealth is concerned, it is linked to the value of my property in the company and not to my remuneration.
Last holidays Honeymoon road trip in a Ferrari 812 GTS from Croatia to Italy in September 2021. “We have known each other for 18 years, but this was our first trip outside of Croatia that was not for business.”
Best advice ever given “I can’t think of just one…I feel like everyone has to go their own way. There is no shortcut.”
Word he abuses “Yes. I need to say no more often…”
how he relaxes “There’s not a lot of time to relax. I think I’m going to go full throttle…and then at some point I’m going to drop the throttle completely. I don’t think there is anything in between.
supercars in turn to drive a Bugatti (a Veyron this time) on the circuit. It’s a far cry from a boy in his room staring at car posters.
“The job or life before the company is like a vague memory,” he says. “Like I was dreaming about it.”
This life began in Bosnia in 1988. He loved cars from an early age, much to the dismay of his parents. When the war in Bosnia broke out, they moved to Germany, the heart of Europe’s automotive industry. Her father was in construction and her mother worked as a cleaner when they lived in Germany. After 10 years, they returned closer to home, to their neighbor Croatia.
“I was not a good student,” Rimac says, with what appears to be real modesty. But one teacher said he should enter an electronics contest. He won that, then several more, and filed two patents when he was just 17. At 18, he bought a 1984 BMW 3 Series to race. It was “rusty, shit,” and after two races its combustion engine blew up. So he decided to do something that hadn’t been seriously pursued even by the biggest automakers: make a car that was powered by electricity rather than fossil fuels.
At first, washing machine jokes followed him around the tracks as he raced with a forklift engine, heavy lead acid batteries and a green paint job. The jokes died down when he started winning races with homemade electrics capable of matching the acceleration of a Ferrari.
Rimac practically taught himself, dropping out of college to pursue his dream in a friend’s garage. He then had a stroke of luck when a representative of a member of the Abu Dhabi royal family – Rimac refuses to name him – asked him to build an electric hypercar.
They somehow managed to get one together in time for the 2011 Frankfurt Motor Show, and Rimac began to build a reputation in the burgeoning electric car industry, consulting more and more names important and obtaining more and more important investments. Porsche (which is owned by VW) invested in 2017.
Today, Rimac has 1,600 employees. He admits it’s dizzying for someone so young – he first grew a beard to look older, he jokes. Did he ever doubt himself? “Yeah, all the time,” he said. “I think the chances of success were very close to zero all the time. So to get to that, at that point, the odds at any time, I mean…” He pauses. “The odds are increasing, I guess.”
Rising to the helm of a century-old name like Bugatti is more than most people can dream of for an entire career, but Rimac has plans for the next revolution in the industry he loves – something good deeper than electrification. He believes self-driving cars will break the age-old link between driving and ownership.
If households massively gave up car ownership, this would result in a significant drop in sales. That may be because he’s a millennial with no ties to the old industry, but Rimac doesn’t think that’s necessarily going to be a bad thing.
“Over 95% of the time we sit around wasting space, parking,” he says. The unused “hundreds of kilos of aluminum, copper, steel” are “so inefficient”: “It’s so fundamentally wrong.
Rimac has received several funding offers to “sue Tesla” and build consumer electric cars, but he says it would have been like starting a VHS company when DVDs were on the way. He decided to take the robo-taxi route instead.
He won’t detail his plans for the Rimac Group’s self-driving taxi subsidiary, Project 3. Hints he’s dropping, along with EU state aid announcements, suggest it will be a an autonomous car service integrated with public transport.
He draws an analogy to Apple’s first pre-iPhone technology partnership with Motorola: It failed because “to make a great product,” he says, you have to control everything. “And when I say control everything, I’m not just talking about the car, but the hardware, the software, but also the rest of the autonomous driving ecosystem, which is not only the car, it’s also a lot of things outside of the car.”
If car ownership shifts from individuals to fleets of on-demand vehicles, middle-market automakers such as Fiat, Renault or Citroen could become suppliers to tech industry titans rather than coveted brands, Rimac warns. Chinese company Foxconn makes a lot of money making iPhones, but Apple does more.
Rimac will continue to make the kind of hypercars he idolized when he was young and provide electric technology to high-end automakers, but he thinks the “great transformation” of self-driving will be difficult for the biggest manufacturers. cars today. “Who is going to cry after a Toyota Camry? he asks. “I don’t mind these cars disappearing.”