Saturday, 27 February 2016

All-Electric Croatian Creation Out-Accelerates Veyrons

2016 Rimac Concept_One
A few years ago, Mercedes-Benz came out with an all-electric version of the AMG SLS sports GT car. It had all-wheel-drive, true active torque-vectoring and a high-visibility paint job. Reviewers marveled at how big a difference it made to switch it into Sport mode, how much sharper and more aggressive it became, how docile it was in lesser modes, and so on. Sure it was expensive, but it also surprised a lot of people. Of course, you'd expect impressive engineering from one of the world's largest and most established car manufacturers in history, right? Well... what if I told you that the electric drive systems all came from a small start-up company in Croatia? Oh, and have you seen the astonishingly potent Koenigsegg Regera hybrid hypercar? The one with "no gears" in its transmission that has over 700 horsepower of electric drive to supplement its 5.0 twin-turbo V8, and which can do 0-250mph in 20 seconds? Koenigsegg do not mess around when it comes to engineering, and take pride in coming up with new innovations themselves... and yet, it's that same little technology company just outside Zagreb in Croatia which has also provided the batteries and relevant control electronics for the most powerful production car yet made. Or maybe you follow the Pikes Peak Hillclimb and wondered whose technology really powers Monster Tajima's 1340-horsepower "E-Runner" that outpaced every engine-powered car last year?

Finally, do you own a PS4 and the game Driveclub? Have you driven the electric Rimac Concept_One that can out-accelerate the McLaren P1 and LaFerrari? Yeah, I'm talking about those guys. That car is real, and it's going on sale this summer. If Rimac has just entered your life out of nowhere, let's go through some backstory...

In 2007, a 19-year-old Mate Rimac [Ma-té Ree-mack] was just out of university when he decided to buy a BMW E30 two years his senior and go racing with it. Unfortunately, the engine packed up. Fortunately, he had been studying "mechatronics" very successfully the year before - he wound up touring his native Croatia and then the world to win awards for his wearable keyboard/mouse replacement meant for future smart TVs - so he decided to have a crack at turning his old 3-Series into an electric car. Initially it was underwhelming and he was mocked for his "washing machine" which people joked might strike them with lighting, but through perseverance and eventually with help from an assembled team of experts, Mr. Rimac made his E30 into something of a monster. A "Green Monster," no less. It was overhauled and reinvented a total of five times, its ultimate iteration setting five Guinness world acceleration records in 2011 for electric vehicles over 1000kg. With a relatively modest 1150kg kerbweight and chucking 600 horsepower and 664lb/ft at the rear wheels, it could do 0-60 in 3.3 seconds, or travel up to 180km (112mi) on a charge.

Somewhere along the line, Rimac realised that there was so little of the original car left that he ought to try building one from scratch. A car designed specifically to be electric would be a better test bed for his technology, after all. By 2009 he had sold enough patents and got together enough investment money to found his own company for the task. A few months after the world-record run in 2011, the Concept_One first appeared at the Frankfurt Motor Show, to much interest. Since then, the weight has risen and fallen, the claimed torque output has dropped from "preposterous" to just "bloody hell that's a lot" and the top speed has slowly risen. There have even been a couple of development cars entering private hands, while one has served as the Formula E race director's course car. Finally, after five years of being repeatedly reinvented, the Concept_One has reached its ultimate iteration and will appear at the Geneva Motor Show next month as a finished road car.

It's quite something, too. Unlike a lot of small-time supercar companies who start with tried-and-tested parts to save money, everything from the batteries and motors down to the lights and interior switches is developed entirely in-house, within a single facility in Sveta Nedelja. Only the Brembo carbon-ceramic brakes, Michelin tyres and the wheels (possibly HRE) are brought in from external suppliers. This amount of 'vertical integration' allows them to keep a close eye on quality and develop everything in a more unified way.

Each wheel gets its own oil-cooled permanent magnet AC induction motor (fellow Croatian, Nikola Tesla invented the AC motor, of course), and each motor gets its own reduction gearbox in order to translate a spinning motor into a spinning wheel with more control and a different ratio. The front two motors use single-speed gearboxes, while the ones at the back get two-speed (automatic) dual-clutch affairs. The thing about electric motors is that they make their torque instantly, which is great for low-end shove but it means the power delivery drops off quite quickly once past a certain point. With an extra gear for each rear wheel, the car gets a second wind at somewhere above 80mph and continues accelerating like crazy when single-speed EVs would run out of puff.

"But does it really need four gearboxes?" you ask. It's all part of the company's Rimac All-Wheel Torque Vectoring (R-AWTV) system, in which each wheel is individually controlled 100 times per second to give the right amount of torque for what you're doing... and what you want to do; the system can be programmed to effectively give the car any kind of cornering behaviour you want, from mild understeer to powersliding lunatic, both through precisely measuring out the torque and by decelerating the wheel(s) electronically with negative torque to give faster-reacting traction/stability control than a conventional car's mechanical system ever could. As well as some factory pre-set modes (normal/track/drift/etc.), you can customise your own to match your driving style by adjusting things like default torque and brake force distribution. This isn't some puny "Sport Mode Button" that just sharpens throttle response and dampers, the system completely changes the way the car takes corners. An early version of it was in that electric AMG SLS. An article in a previous issue of evo magazine suggested that because each wheel/motor is completely independent, it's technically possible to make the left and right wheels spin in opposite directions to make the Concept_One "turn on the spot like a tank." This probably won't be a selectable mode for customers, though...

Of course, however you tell it to go around corners, the straight-line performance will be the same. It's a good thing it's utterly bonkers, then! The four motors' combined max power of 800kW translates to 1073bhp, while you also get a whopping 1180lb/ft of instantly-delivered torque from 0-6500rpm. In case it wasn't obvious, those are really high numbers. Like, really high. The rear gearboxes only having to change gear once during a flat-out run also saves a lot of time compared to engine-powered cars of similar performance. Speaking of which, let me put the Concept_One's numbers into context:

All figures are as claimed by the manufacturers
Yeah. This car is in the big leagues, make no mistake. It can take care of a Veyron SS from 100-300km/h quite comfortably, despite lacking 110 horsepower and weighing slightly more. Given that the big bad Bug' took twice as long to develop by the world's biggest automotive powerhouse (Volkswagen Automotive Group) in a money-no-object manner, I think you'll agree that's more than a little impressive for a growing start-up company currently employing fewer than 200 people. The one caveat with a Veyron comparison is that the Bugatti was engineered to work just as well a decade after it was built, whereas we can't possibly know about the longevity of this new electric car. The Rimac's top speed is 221mph (355km/h), which doesn't touch the three cars above but could very well make it the fastest all-electric vehicle ever made.

Let's also point out the weight. The Veyron may have an engine the size of some small cars, but the Rimac's got 8450 battery cells to store all the electricity needed to give such a powerful car "an acceptable range" of realistically around 330km/205mi. While they're improving all the time, batteries still weigh a lot, so even though the Rimac's overall package is much simpler mechanically, it can't score a significant weight advantage until even more size-efficient batteries come along. But look at the bigger picture here - this car has four big motors, four gearboxes and thousands of batteries, yet it weighs 390kg less than the most powerful Tesla Model S, and only 55kg more than the very conventional Lexus RC F V8 coupé which is a lot slower. This car isn't inexcusably heavy, it's just no lightweight either. Besides, with the centre of gravity extremely low and central in the car, it should keep its bulk under control quite nicely. Distribution is 42:58 front-to-rear, so it should generate good traction even with all that torque.

The battery system itself can discharge up to a megawatt of energy under full acceleration, while regenerative braking can send as much as 400kW of energy back into the battery. In fact, the car's electronic brakes can generate 0.6g of deceleration without even activating the mechanical brakes. So it stops as well as it goes.

Inside, you will find no plastic at all. Everything visible and touchable is made of billet aluminium, carbon fibre or alcantara. Don't go looking for borrowed switches either - they machined all the knobs and pedals and such in their own facility using machines and tools of their own design. Instead, you find chunky metal switches to control the car's dynamics, and a touchscreen just above it for infotainment and secondary adjustments to the car itself, using software written by Rimac. As explained above, you could go to a track and get super nerdy with adjusting your brake force distribution/torque split/regen-braking level, or you can just turn a knob and engage "track mode" to let the car sort it all out. You can even record telemetry gathered from over 500 sensors in the car and either look at it live or store it on a cloud server using 4G internet to look at later on your computer or phone, if you're that way inclined. Alternatively you can just invite people for passenger rides, tell them nothing about the car and then do 0-185mph in about 14 seconds. Just make sure to film them if you do!

The LED tail lights also vent heat through the middle of them
Purists will scoff, but forget them. I can't even imagine what it must be like to have nearly 1100 horsepower delivered in one sustained surge. Maybe it's like a tube train multiplied by ten, or hitting Warp Drive on a spaceship! To almost-silently annihilate any car on the road at a set of lights would also be pretty entertaining, I suspect. Especially as matey boy in his M3 would have absolutely no idea what just blasted past him. I can't wait to read about what it's like to drive. As for corners, Rimac's test driver Miroslav Zrnčevič told evo magazine that the car feels 500kg lighter and requires less steering lock with the RAWTV system activated, the effect being comparable to a Mitsubishi Evo IX's Active Yaw Control in his opinion.

The Concept_One will go on sale soon, with a target price of €800,000 before taxes. I translate that to £630,102, plus 20% VAT is £756,122. On the one hand, that's a hell of a lot for an all-new car from a company most people have never heard of. On the other hand, there will only be eight of them, it's all completely bespoke and it's the ultimate expression of what is possible, both for current electric sports cars and for a little start-up company in Croatia who mainly do business by applying their knowhow and facilities to other people's projects. Oh, and it can outperform cars worth over £1million, so there's that!

You can learn more about Rimac by watching this presentation by Mate, and read the full Concept_One press release here, where you will also find more images.

Images are from Rimac. Article written for SmallBlog V8. Please report if it is republished elsewhere.

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