Croatian hypercar manufacturer Rimac Automobili has thrown the world a bit of a curveball. The business is reportedly in the middle of a plot to develop robotaxi services for Europe and making some decent headway at that.
Despite only having been around since 2009, Rimac has a reputation for working with other brands. Most of its first vehicles were actually pre-existing models converted to use all-electric powertrains. It also has a working relationship with Volkswagen Group ever since subsidiary Porsche Engineering Group GmbH acquired a 10-percent stake in the Croatian company.
Since then, Rimac has only deepened its ties to Porsche, entered into a joint venture with Bugatti, and started working with Hyundai/Kia on developing high-performance electric vehicles. The latter partnership has evolved in recent years and includes the duo developing automated vehicles. News of the endeavor broke in 2021, when the media caught wind of a filing with the Croatian Ministry of Transportation.
The electric hypercar company was developing an autonomous taxi based around the Renault Espace minivan. But the vehicle itself is just supposed to serve as a testing platform for hardware and software the company believes will result in an upscale robotaxi service. Additional evidence of the program came to light when Rimac Group launched a funding round that made mention of developing commercially viable autonomous vehicles.
According to Autocar, that service will be in commercial operation by 2026.
Founder and boss Mate Rimac told Autocar that the Nevera serves an important purpose as a halo product for Rimac but the robotaxi project aims to “change the lives of more people” by providing easy-access, electric urban transport.
Details remain scarce ahead of its unveiling, but the robotaxi is understood to be capable of driving entirely without human input and will operate within a framework of infrastructure that Rimac is developing alongside the vehicle itself – including chargers, storage hubs and parking spaces.
However, Rimac revealed to Autocar that the mysterious machine “is a car but a completely different type”. This suggests that it will be a largely bespoke proposition, designed with an emphasis on maximising interior space and electric powertrain efficiency.
The fact that Rimac has been using a Renault Espace MPV for testing purposes could give some indication as to the robotaxi’s size and shape.
Rimac is trying to build an entire ecosystem for automated EVs. Maybe we’ve just seen too many companies aiming lower and still struggling (e.g. General Motors’ Cruise). But this seems like an incredibly difficult goal for the brand to achieve, even with help from larger automakers. Rimac isn’t just trying to build reliable AVs, it’s vying to establish a commercially viable business model for them and simultaneously establish the related infrastructure under one big umbrella.
These are things the company has considered, however. Mate Rimac said the business is trying to keep things under the radar to avoid “underdelivering.” The plan is to keep the program separate from its hypercar tie-ins with Bugatti. However, Porsche was included in the 500-euro round of fundraising that made mention of similar services. Kia is likewise said to be backing its robotaxi development program.
Based on the report most of development will take place in the Croatian capital of Zagreb. However, Autocar noted that Rimac also has a strong R&D presence in the United Kingdom — with around 100 engineers working at a new technology facility near Warwick. Regardless, Rimac confirmed that it’s building a Croatian factory dedicated toward its robotaxi program. The site is supposed to be capable of building “tens of thousands of units per year.”
Once it’s up and running, Rimac wants to launch a pilot program in Zagreb. Germany and the UK are supposed to follow. But the company said it has been in talks with city officials in over 20 locales spread across Europe and the Middle East. Considering how similar programs have worked out in the past, we’d be cautious to assume things will go off without a hitch. Though Rimac does seem fairly serious about the concept.
[Image: Rimac Automobili]
Become a TTAC insider. Get the latest news, features, TTAC takes, and everything else that gets to the truth about cars first by subscribing to our newsletter.