Christian von Koenigsegg Talks About the Future and His Nerves Leading Up to the Speed Record

Catching up with the new King of Sweden

No one was prepared for the disruption Koenigsegg would have on the supercar segment when the company first emerged from Sweden’s dark and mysterious forests in 1994. The combination of the car’s shape and its power took the wind out of many Italian sails. Neither was the world prepared for the sheer intellect and force of will of its Koenigsegg’s founder and namesake, Christian von Koenigsegg.

Twenty-four years later, the company—and, indeed, the man’s impact—has had a continuing impact on the automotive community. We sat down with Christian two weeks after one of his creations, an Agera RS, broke five world records, including becoming the fastest production vehicle on the planet. We discussed his past, the company’s future, and whether or not he is related to a certain Scarlet Speedster superhero.

Automobile: Are you related to the Flash? Is that why Koenigsegg is synonymous with speed?

Christian von Koenigsegg (with a laugh): Of course, I am!

AM: We knew it.

CvK: I guess speed is something that just comes natural to what we do here. It’s always been part of Koenigsegg’s DNA to go fast. I remember when we did the first CC8 in 2002. We had the first pre-production car and went wind-tunnel testing at Volvo’s wind-tunnel in Gothenburg, Sweden. With that data, we started calculating what kind of speeds we could achieve, and we were really, really surprised of what was possible. Ever since, I guess we’ve been chasing the demons of speed.

AM: Koenigsegg is also known for bleeding-edge engineering, what made you lean into that type of supercar design?

CvK: Building Koenigsegg’s persona, the one we have now, was really about distinguishing ourselves from the competitors. Making it interesting or exciting is one side of it. [AM: Take a look at Koenigsegg’s dihedral doors or triplex suspension.] Pushing boundaries and challenging myself and our team with what we can do is another.

I had always wanted to build my own sports car since I was a young boy, but when I started, no one was asking for a Swedish supercar, hypercar, megacar, or whatever. I had to solve, “How can I make people interested?” What came across as the correct strategy, but may have not been the easiest road to travel, was to try to outdo everyone else in what a sports car can do. Huge speed, power, grip, and handling all came into play.

But to combine all those contradictory features into something that’s rather useful for road use, that’s actually very livable to drive on a normal road and not be this undrivable monster, it had really never been done. We wanted to build something with those features better than anyone had before us and we did.

AM: We remember the first time we saw one of your cars and said, “Whoa, what is that!”

CvK: That’s exactly the reaction we were going for.

AM: Koenigsegg was the inventor of the hypercar. How do you see that formula evolving in the future?

CvK: There are a lot of things happening with electrification and the expectation of what these cars can do. I think it’s an extremely exciting time. There’s a lot of opportunity and challenges. There are a lot of regulatory challenges that come into play if you want to sell these cars for road use. There are environmental aspects. There is the environmental image, which is becoming more important to us as well.

I think, for those of us who are up to the challenge, it’s a fantastic era to build extreme cars. It is the most challenging era, for sure, but also one with the most opportunity for technology to be integrated into the cars and definitely more interesting than ever before. I just love it. This era is the perfect storm to create extreme, interesting, and unusual things.

AM: In that vein, what are your thoughts on a pure EV being labeled a hypercar? You’ve undoubtedly seen Tesla’s Roadster 2.0 and Rimac’s Concept One. Do you consider those hypercars? And is sound an integral variable?

CvK: To have a good sound or interesting sound that stimulates your senses is definitely a plus. At the same time, I don’t see why an electric car couldn’t be a hypercar. [A hypercar] needs to tick a lot of boxes. Of course, it has a hard time ticking the sound box and to a certain degree the emotion box, especially with the more traditional [supercar] clientele. But from my perspective, probably yes.

It’s not only about 0 to 60 mph or 0 to 200 mph, you also need the emotional aspect and a car’s agility. They lack sound to a certain degree. But if you push the boundaries of technology, and you have the performance and the looks and a lot of other emotions, why not?

AM: With the recent addition of the Regera, are you considering furthering your hybrid technology?

CvK:  Of course, we still have a lot of sound [from the twin-turbocharged V-8], but with the Koenigsegg style and ethos, we’ll probably continue to combine ingredients to beat the pure electric cars at their own game. We want to show a different angle of what’s possible.

AM: Let’s talk about the record. Now that the event is over and everyone came back safe, was there anything specific you were truly nervous about?

Cvk: The entire event was very nerve-wracking. Being a public road, when you drive on it slowly it feels fairly flat and very straight. But at [284.9 mph] it’s far from flat. And the road is very narrow. There’s the chance for animals and vegetation, other obstacles on the road, or something could go wrong with the car. We’ve never driven that fast before, and it’s in front of a huge audience, so if anything went wrong, it’s extremely public and immediate. All those variables were very nerve-wracking. But we stepped up to the challenge, we were very open about everything, and it gave credibility the whole event. It was extremely exciting.

AM: What did you think when Mark Stidham (the owner of the car) and Jeffrey Cheng came to you with this proposal?

CvK: We’ve had our own ambition to do this for many, many years. We just couldn’t find a road we could shut down and get to it. And all the other tracks we found were too short. I kind of gave up on the idea. At the same time, I realized it’s not sane to travel at these speeds. No one really should travel at these speeds, especially on a public road. So we started to focus on how we get to 250 mph faster than anyone else and making the best car in that scenario. We didn’t want to spend our energy on making a car that’s really good at going 300 mph but has other compromises, whether that’s too long gear ratios to be fun or not enough downforce at slower speeds. So, like I said, I had given up on it.

But then Mark and Jeffrey said they wanted to do this. And they said they wanted to do this together. Even if we weren’t part of it, though, Mark was adamant that when he got his Agera RS that he was going to attempt the record. We decided that it would be far better if we were involved. We know the aerodynamics, the engineering, we have our driver [Niklas Lilja], and we can help set up the car to be as safe as possible.

In hindsight, it was a fantastic thing. But in one way, it was also something we didn’t really need to do because we can prove ourselves in so many other aspects. That it was possible, and that the car was capable of [hitting 284.9 mph], it’s incredible. I’ve looked at the data since, and we were actually hitting the rev limiter on the highest speed run for almost 10 seconds. We basically ran out of gear.

AM: Has anyone ever stopped you in the company’s history and said, “Christian, this is way too crazy? We can’t do that.”

CvK (with a laugh): Yeah, I’ve heard that a couple times. But I know why we are where we are, and it’s because we did these kind of over-the-top things. We did them well, and that’s who we are. We can’t change from one day to the other. We’re here to push boundaries, and that’s what I like in the end. Sometimes it’s frustrating and painful, but that’s who we are.

AM: On pushing those boundaries, while Bugatti is releasing the Chiron’s top speed, and Hennessey claims the Venom F5 will hit 300 mph, do you see any technical hurdles before a road car hits 300 mph or faster?

CvK: I’ll say this: We could’ve raised our rpm limiter and compensated more for the high altitude with the turbocharger’s boost pressures. In fact, we were actually down on boost pressure. If you look at video and the ease at which the car took itself up to those speeds, with a little less drag, a little bit higher rpm, a different gear ratio, and a few extra horsepower, we’re almost there. It’s not farfetched that with a few changes the Agera RS could’ve done it.

There aren’t many technical hurdles left. We had Michelin there, and they were blown away at how little their tires were affected by what we were doing. Before the record, we also spun our wheels and the Michelin tires to more than 310 mph at our factory and checked the valves and TPMS components, so there wouldn’t be an issue. I think with our suspension setup and the low weight of our car, their tires would’ve been fine to hit 300 mph.

Other cars, however, will be different as weight, downforce, and other variables will interact with the tires and car differently. But it’s definitely doable.

AM: So if Bugatti or Hennessey came out tomorrow with a faster run, do you think there would be a second attempt?

CvK: It’s not something we’re looking to go after. I think if someone beats 300 mph, and we then go 310 mph, where are we heading? To 400 mph? The limits are clear. If you look at drag racing, they’re hitting more than 300 mph. Then you have the salt flats. I don’t think there’s a hard limit. But the question is, if it’s a road car for sale, what’s the compromise for other aspects of the car? What are the sacrifices?

You can make the car completely robotized. All the aero changes itself, this and that flap close and open allowing for faster speeds. But there’s a cost of weight and complexity. There’s always a compromise. It’s not something we’re after.

AM: Then what’s next for Koenigsegg?

CvK: We’re working day and night to get the Regeras out. We have eight of them right now being built in parallel, and on top of that the Regera is about to take over the entire production line. It’s really launching that out in a big way to our waiting customers and to start showing the world what the Regera can do, which is very exciting.

To put it in perspective, it was a very wet runway here in Ängelholm, and we did a little drag race between a Regera and an Agera RS, and without spoiling anything, it’s pretty crazy what the Regera can do.

AM: My colleague Zach Bowman asked you after the event what this record meant for you and the company. You said that you needed time to digest everything. A few weeks on, how does it feel?

CvK: I’m actually surprised at the enormity of the thing. It spread like wildfire, and everyone seemed to really care about the record. I meet people who aren’t really interested in cars, and they know about it. It’s clear that it had a real meaning to people, and it put us in a good light. It was all positive. Of course, when it’s all over and done with, it’s a great feeling because it’s tough to get there, get it done, and make sure all the risks are handled properly. But afterwards it’s fantastic. I think it had a really important impact for the company. We’ve also heard that Agera RS customers are getting ludicrous offers for their cars!

AM: Thanks for sitting down with us, and thank you so much for having us at the event.

CvK: Of course, and I hope to see you in Sweden in a few months maybe to play with the Regera.

AM: Absolutely.