Rimac Concept One took the Geneva Motor Show by storm earlier this year. TCN catches up with Paul Runge, the first person to import a car from Croatia to the United States. Paul told us about his three-year relationship with Rimac Automobili during a break in the recent Nikola Tesla EV Rally in Croatia.
Imagine a country which has no car industry whatsoever, and then one day a young man comes along and puts together a team which produces a high quality electric car which stole the show at the recent Geneva Motor Show. The young man is Mate Rimac of Rimac Automobili, the country is Croatia, and the car is Rimac Concept One. During the recent Nikola Tesla RV Rally in Croatia, TCN caught up with the man who will be importing the first Croatian car ever into the United States in a couple of months. Paul Runge took time from driving his new car on the rally, accompanied by a Rimac engineer, to talk to TCN about how he got involved.
How did you first hear about Rimac Automobili?
About three years ago, I was reading an article in the Wall Street Journal about Mate Rimac and his company. It was exciting to read what they were doing, and how they were pushing the envelope with their new electric technology. I sent an email which was promptly answered by their PR. After a few phone calls came an invitiation to visit. I came to visit and was thoroughly impressed with everyone at the company, as well as the technology. and so we got into dicscussions about putting a car together. And here we are three years later.
(Concept One owner Paul Runge taking a break in Starigrad Paklenica during the recent Nikola Tesla EV Rally)
So you were actually involved with some of your ideas in the car?
The engineering is all Rimac. I am a physician not an engineer. But from my side it was more like sitting down with the designer working on the colour and how the interior would look. The engineers were great, and I worked with them to put the package together.
So Concept One was a concept three years ago?
Oh yes, absolutely. In fact they were already in development at that point. But there have been a lot of changes, and this car is now 75-80% different from the test vehicle which is the third or fourth car they produced. In fact I have driven the other two test vehicles, and there is night and day difference between them and this car.
Tell us about the Rimac factory
Mate was like about 25, and there were 15-20 employees, all young engineers, and the atmosphere was really electric. So much enthusiasm, and Mate said that his biggest problem was getting them to stop work at night and go home. It was wonderful to see that enthusiasm spreading through the environment, and now the company has over 180 employees, I think, but that company philosophy and mission statement is still there today. There is lots of young blood, but the CEO is still only 28. The engineer driving with me in the rally is in his early twenties. It is an amazing environment to be able to spend some time in. I could not be more pleased with the whole process.
(Buying the Rimac Concept One was not the usual simple transaction, but a three-year relationship of site visits and cooperation – check out the video above for an example)
And what was the process from your first visit? When did you actually order the car?
I ordered it very early on. Even on my first visit, I committed to buying a car. I thought about it and talked to the folks, and I decided it was something I really wanted to get involved with from the beginning. I have never regretted that decision for one moment.
How is it going to be when you drive this back in the States? You will get a few looks, for sure.
I think we will. We are going to take it to the Pebble Beach Motor Show in August, and then they will bring the car to me in Florida. I think it is going to make a big splash. It debuted at the Geneva Motor Show earlier this year, and I think it was the hit of the show and the most beautiful car there, and of course, there is nothing close to it from a technlogical point of view.
(Overnight parking for Concept One at the luxury D-Marin resort in Sibenik during the Nikola Tesla EV Rally)
Did you know much about Croatia before you read this article about Rimac in the Wall Street Journal?
Nothing. Nothing at all. I mean, I knew where it was. There was a good friend of mine who got stuck in a train station in Croatia while travelling as a college student, and she named her dog Zagreb, so that was it – I knew where it was, that the capital was Zagreb (thanks to the dog) and it had been part of the former Yugoslavia. That was it.
Nothing has disappointed me here – the people, the place, the food, just the experience, and this Nikola Tesla Rally is my first trip out to the coast, and it is remarkable so far.
And how are you are enjoying the rally?
I am really enjoying it and very excited to be part of it. I was a little disappointed with the weather yesterday and the road conditions, but today made up for everything. The road is brilliant, some great sharp turns. And the scenery is stunning. I could not be happier.
And now that you drive Concept One, it is going to be almost impossible to go back to driving any other car, isn’t it? How do you downgrade after driving this car?
That is going to be a tough one. I think I am going to restrict it to very good road conditions and weather. My daily drive at home is a Nissan Leaf, and I also have a Model X Tesla, and those two are night and day different, so I will somehow integrate Concept One into my life.
(The man behind the machine. TCN catches up with Rimac Automobili CEO Mate Rimac at the start of the Nikola Tesla EV Rally in Porec)