My old neighbour has a dilapidated tractor shed which is a bit of a disaster most of the time but a treasure trove some of the time. Anytime I had something broken at home I could pop over to that old shed and it was a pretty safe bet that there would be a nut, bolt or another piece of equipment that would be able to fix my problem. It may have taken some judicious blows with a big hammer but, in that shed, anything was fixable.
I was thinking about my old neighbour the other day as I took a tour of what can only be described as the polar opposite of that shed. I was visiting Rodin Cars. For those of you who haven’t heard of Rodin before, it is what I would describe as a most improbable business. Situated on top of a picturesque hill in rural North Canterbury, Rodin is laser-focused on creating what is arguably the most beautiful, high-performance vehicle on earth. To be specific, its Fzero car is going to be faster than a Formula 1 race car. And they’ve got lap times on their own test track that runs alongside the state highway to prove it.
The Rodin workshops are as clean as an operating theatre and every single part, tool and raw material is catalogued, labelled, perfectly stored and ready to do their bit to further the singular goal that is engineering excellence.
Much has been written about the automotive aspects of what Rodin are doing and, unlike my mate Lee, I’m nowhere near enough of a petrol head to even start to comment about performance attributes. What I’d like to write about, when it comes to Rodin is broader than what they’re making specifically and is more about how they’re doing it.
What struck me when I visited Rodin was two things. Firstly that improbability I mentioned. Who would have ever thought that roughly two hours out of Christchurch and, quite frankly, in the middle of nowhere, someone would have a collection of high-performance vehicles that I suspect would be unmatched in this country?
The fact that Rodin has sheds full of reference vehicles aimed at giving a comparison to the vehicles that they themselves are making gives you an idea of the scale we’re talking about. My petrolhead mate looked at my photos, and let out a soft whistle when he realised part of the fleet included a McLaren Senna.
These sorts of sights one expects to see in Las Vegas, Dubai, or Monaco. But not within a few miles of a sleepy, earthquake-damaged rural town where the usual views are made up of farmland, cows and sheep. For this commentator at least it is actually quite incongruous to see high-performance vehicle manufacturing in this location.
The other thing that struck me during my visit was the level of detail and focus it takes in order to deliver one man’s personal quest to produce the world’s fastest production vehicle. I spent time looking around the machine shops, the 3D printing labs and, my favourite, the physical vapour deposition machines. I got chatting with one technician whose role revolves around making individually machined, coated and laser-etched screws out of solid titanium rod. Most folks would go to a fastening supplier to purchase their specific screws for a project but at Rodin they manufacturer them all from scratch.
I took the opportunity to sit down with David Dicker, the founder of Rodin. As will be perhaps unsurprising to readers, Dicker is a very wealthy man thanks to some visionary work in the technology space in Australia. The company he founded, and that is now listed on the ASX, is the vehicle through which he has been able to pursue his Rodin dream, something that many would label as little more than a rich man’s folly.
Dicker, however, is focused on true commercialization. He sees success for Rodin as selling at least 50 vehicles a year, and with a price tag looking to be around a million US dollars, that’s reasonable revenue for an operation such as his. It’s a case of a visionary having a personal passion and also having the not insignificant cash reserves to further that passion.
Maniacal ego-fueled folly or simply what it takes to excel? Everyone will have a different view on that.