Ralph Debbas is Chairman and CEO of Dubai based W Motors, which created and produces the Lykan Hypersport – the car seen driven through the Etihad Towers in Furious 7.
Billed as the first Middle Eastern supercar, the Lykan Hypersport goes 0 to 60 in 2.8 seconds, has a top speed of 395kph, and with a sticker price of $3.4M it is the most expensive vehicle ever featured in the Fast and Furious franchise.
I recently caught up with the 29 year old Lebanese entrepreneur in Miami, where we discussed his passion for design, the most outrageous vehicle launch in history and what’s next for W Motors.
How did your cultural background and your design expertise converge in the creation of the Lykan Hypersport?
Many elements converged in my life in order to get this idea to build W Motors, the first Arabian brand of cars and to build the Lykan Hypersport. I’m originally Lebanese and I come from a family of entrepreneurs so the mentality that I have all around me as a child was to do it yourself. Go get it done. Have a dream. Follow it. If it doesn’t happen, who cares? There are failures and there is success in life. I was born with this mentality. Especially coming from an industrial family. We had factories and I learned how the industry works. I always had a passion for design. So I just took my things and I left. I studied automotive design in England. I think I’m the only one in the Middle East that actually has a diploma in automotive design. People think this doesn’t exist. That this major doesn’t exist.
So I followed through with that. I went to one of the best universities in the world- Coventry University. I graduated with flying stars and I did a great job there. Just before I went there I had this passion. I said, you know what? I’m not just going to go there just to learn how to design cars but I want to learn how to design and build my car. The one that I’ve always had in my mind. So I started drawing it ever since I was there.
The day I finished, I took my things and went to Milano, started networking, went back to Beirut and we set up my first company for automotive design and manufacturing in Lebanon. It was purely for research and development for three to four years. We started preparing the team there, designing the car and engineering everything. Then things came together, we launched the car, moved to Dubai and it’s been a phenomenal journey.
What I find so interesting is that after finishing school the average automotive design student would think of going to Detroit, Italy, or Germany. You went back to the most unlikely of places to start a car company. Why?
Well I went to Beirut for many reasons. The whole idea behind it was creating something different. The world needed to see something different. Don’t forget that we passed through a phase in the mid 2000s to end of 2000s where the financial crisis was hitting around the world. People were losing hope on luxury products. But my theory was completely different because I knew building a car would not be a day’s work. It would be years and years in development. So by the time you are ready the market is already up, people are looking for something exclusive something luxurious and who ever is able to afford a 3 million dollar car is able to afford a 3 million dollar car during or after the crisis. So that is something I always had in mind. So I figured let me go back to the place that no body expected, where its easiest for me to set up the company, which is Beirut, my hometown and we set it up. So I got all my contacts to Lebanon and started working from there.
Now being based in Lebanon attracted a lot of attention. I wanted to shock the world by telling them, “Listen guys we are launching a car company from Lebanon. We are launching the first Arabian car in history. And we are getting the biggest people in the industry from Ruf to Porsche to Magna Steyr all working on this car.” Nobody believed it. Until I did the event in 2012 where we officially launched. It was July 11, 2012. We took a beautiful palace in Beirut. We had 1,500 people from around the world. On that day we spent an incredible amount of money just to make it the biggest, most successful automotive event to announce to the world that we are building a car and in six months you will see the first car at the first motor show in the region. People thought we were crazy. But six months later we were there with the car and there was such an international buzz.
We decided to move from Beirut to a more stable country which is Dubai. Still representing the middle east. Still representing the Arab nations and focusing on the luxury and the marketing of this company in a stable country. So we moved to Dubai and ever since we represent the Arab nations. Not only one country but all the Arab nations around the region.
I can sense what it represents to you personally to have accomplished this. What does that mean for the region?
It’s a huge pride. They have this passion for cars. All around the region. All around the world but especially in the Middle East because they have so much oil money. Unfortunately, they don’t have the education of cars that we have in Europe or North America. Here people understand cars. Over there they just know of cars. But coming in by saying we are going to build the first Arabic car its not about the product itself but about the initiative that we are doing. Now we have our headquarters in Dubai. We told them, “Guys, everywhere we go this car is for you. Not only car for one country.” This raises the bar really high because everyone is focusing on us and everybody is really proud and you know what? I think in the near future they’ll understand that this is something that is being done not only for the Middle East but for the entire world. But for now we are focusing on that region to say we are there. We need your support to be with us.
In your wildest dreams could you have ever imagined the amazing global debut of this vehicle. How did the Furious 7 deal happen?
We would have never imagined such exposure. This is just being in the right place at the right time. We launched the car in 2013. Barely a month after that, we started getting calls from Universal asking to have the car in their movie. We didn’t know what movie it was. We didn’t know if this was serious or not. But we followed through and we said you know what we don’t have anything to loose. Next thing you know, the producers are with us in our factory. Visiting the factory and seeing the production of the cars and placing orders on several units just to be destroyed in the movie. So we thought that this was an incredible opportunity not to miss and the timing was perfect because by the time the movie was done and released it was one week before our Shanghai Motor Show which was in April and the buzz was absolutely incredible. We had 1.6 million visitors come to see the car in Shanghai throughout the week. Which was phenomenal. The biggest attendance of people in history for Shanghai Motor Show. Just to see the car from the Furious 7 and I’m sure we have the same reaction when we bring the car to North America here or any where we take the car.
So it has been an incredible journey. With the Fast and the Furious crew we actually were with them on the set during the filming in Atlanta. We went many times to make sure that everything was ok with the cars. We saw our cars being destroyed; thrown off a building which was very difficult to watch but very exciting at the same time. Then we were with them in an incredible event. They did the official launch of the movie in Beijing actually. It was before Los Angeles and in Beijing they had a press conference and they invited four stars- Vin Diesel, Jason Statham, Michelle Rodriguez and the Lykan Hypersport. The Lykan was actually considered as a star not as a car. They were on stage presenting each one of them and now please welcome all the way from Dubai the Lykan driving on stage. It was phenomenal.
How would you describe your typical consumer?
Our typical consumers have a lot of success in their lives. These are people who can afford to buy these kinds of cars and they are car aficionados who have a collection of cars beyond belief. This shows proof that we aren’t competing with the competition today. This was my initial idea ever since I started. I told every manufacturer that we met, today we work with them all, that we aren’t competing with you. We are here to add something new to this world. It is a small gift that I just want to bring into this world. It is only seven cars. These seven people buying our cars are people who know it and just want something different. Something that is about the lifestyle, about the statement that they want to make. So driving this car is just saying you know what I’m different that you. I’m someone else. I’m someone that is so unique that even you if you want to buy it you can’t anymore because the car is sold out. The lifestyle, the concierge service, the luxury watch. Everything about this car is unique. So our consumers are definitely people who are really interesting and have many businesses. So some of them are just buying them for a collection, as a collector and some are buying it for an everyday use because they know that this car is capable of being driven everyday with incredible performances. So its really interesting to meet these people when we deliver their cars.
The concierge service is unlike any other concierge service out there. Could you talk to me a little bit about that?
The concierge service is provided by Quintessentially Lifestyle so Quintessentially is one of the leading concierge services in the world. Now they have a global elite package which is a very exclusive package for only 100 members in the world. You have to be invited by an existing member in order to access it. With an income exceeding hundreds of millions of dollars a year to qualify for membership. Once you buy a Lykan you are automatically a member in the global elite program for one year, where anything you want is possible. They have 24 hours to make your dreams come true. If you want to have lunch on the Sydney bridge, you’ll have lunch on the Sydney bridge. You do whatever you want. Of course, we give you access to this world but you have to pay for the extra services that come with it. But it’s a phenomenal way to say that its not you that is special, it’s the car that is special because to have access to the concierge you have to be in the car. Everything is related in a circle that has to do with the Lykan Hypersport that only seven lucky people in the world will be able to experience.
What is next?
Next we have a new car coming out in November. November 10 is the big release of the Supersport. We aren’t going to announce the name until then November 10. It is a completely new car. New design. New performance. It is more of a series production of 25 cars per year. More affordable. The Lykan is a collectors, hologram, a three dimensional floating in the air, diamonds, concierge, luxury watch… that’s the Lykan. Supersport is just low weight, full carbon fiber, a lot of performance, beautiful design and more accessible. That is what is coming out in November. Next year in April Beijing Motor Show ,you will witness the first SUV being launched by Beijing Motors. We’re only producing 100 cars. Much more affordable and its targeted to be the fastest SUV ever made. So stay tuned for next April you will have quite a treat by seeing that.