Hayden Paddon says he initially ridiculed the idea of building a fully electric rally car when he was pitched the idea in 2017.
Then, four years later, Paddon and Hyundai New Zealand revealed their electric-driven Kona – one of the first electric rally cars in the world. Paddon claims the car can complete full-length rally stages and produce over 400kW from its powertrain.
The car took over 18 months of development and in-house manufacturing before finally hitting the gravel for the first time.
Before then, Paddon spent a year mulling over the idea with commercial partners to gauge interest in building such a unique rally car.
Speaking on the latest episode of Catching up with the Kiwis, Paddon told host Greg Rust that he had originally laughed at the idea. But the growth of alternative energy cars globally drove him to reconsider the pitch.
“The idea first got pitched to me back in 2017 on a phone call just as a random idea, which I laughed at,” Paddon said. “I am a true petrolhead, like everyone else involved in the sport.
“But something about the idea really stuck with me.
“And once I started meeting with potential commercial partners over the next 12 months, I could see how people’s ears perked up [at the idea]. All of a sudden, it was a completely different discussion.
“Then through 2018 we could see Formula E was developing very quickly; we were starting to see a lot more alternative energy cars come onto the car market, and it was all happening quicker than anyone expected.”
At the same time the idea was first raised to Paddon, the World Rally Championship had successfully launched its latest generation of car.
The 2017-spec challengers had an increase in power output and a decrease in overall car weight.
Paddon says the new cars were a significant milestone for the sport, but the WRC then failed to look ahead into the future of the automotive industry.
“We could also see that the WRC was almost resting out its laurels in that they had had a great 2017/18 [season] with the new generation cars,” he said.
“But they were sitting there patting each other on the back and not thinking about the next step. Because of that, I think now [the WRC] are almost starting to lose that opportunity.
“Then of course, once things were starting to go a little bit haywire with us over in the WRC, I started thinking ‘I have got so much more to give. I am not going down like that.’
“And it really lit the fire inside me that said ‘we have got to do something with a Kiwi team, do it our way and go back and achieve our goals.”
Paddon believes the effort he and his team have put in over the last few years to develop a fully electric car has given them a leg-up on the world stage.
“You look at it in 5-10 years and how is it going to look, and it will whether you like or not involve EV, Hybrid or Hydrogen. So, there was an opportunity for us to get on the bandwagon early and try and create ourselves a way that people will remember us by.
“I guess you can say we have put our flag in the sand and have said ‘we are here and we mean business, and we are trying to lead the way.”
Main Image: Graeme Murray