Proof of Concept

Concept cars live a precipitous life that’s usually punctuated by termination before birth and then burial in the back cabinets of the major car companies. This is usually for several reasons. First, the concept car isn’t really developed as a potential street car but more as a platform to showcase new technologies. Second, the concept exists as visual eye candy to draw consumers towards other, more mundane offerings. Finally, they can just be the automotive industry’s version of “Fantasy Island,” where wild ideas live with no practical value.

But what if the concept was so outlandish that the mere thought of developing the real deal would require developing not only the vehicle, but the entire car company from scratch?

Carbon Dating
Long-time readers will remember my 2007 detailing of an upstart car company in Atlanta, Ga., that had grand visions of reinventing the cop car. The company, Carbon Motors, thought it was time for a cop car to be made for cops, by cops, and that the only way to do it was from scratch.

On paper it makes sense. Major automotive designers, no matter how passionate or well intentioned, can’t get around the fact that mainstream vehicles must meet the needs of the average consumer. Certain aspects of a vehicle’s design can be modified or enhanced to better meet officers’ needs, but the overall design must satisfy mom-and-pop America for manufacturers to recoup design and production costs.

William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of Carbon Motors, has extensive experience working with one of America’s Big Three manufacturers, which is critical. In the past, other entities have certainly been willing to develop solutions, but, as you can imagine, the leap from drawing board to the production line is massive. In Carbon’s case, its entire staff is filled with automotive executives who have spent decades designing, developing and manufacturing vehicles for major car companies.

Despite all this experience, Carbon understood that to design the best vehicle for officers, it needed to go directly to the source. So, the company created the Carbon Council, which is the company’s think-tank. Li says Carbon’s current patrol-car design is the result of input from more than 400 law enforcement agencies, ranging from some of the biggest to the smallest. In fact, Li says some of their best ideas have come from the smallest agencies.

Enter Carbon’s new patrol car, dubbed (for now) the E7. The premise behind the E7 is simple. Li says other public safety professions have vehicles specific to their needs, such as firefighters, and that it’s “unacceptable” to him that seven years after Sept. 11, there still isn’t a police vehicle on the streets made specifically for law enforcement. With more than 19,000 police agencies and more than 800,000 officers in the United States, the need for a job-specific police vehicle seemed obvious.

He also knows most agencies are budget-driven, so low operating costs and better efficiency were two important criteria. According to Li, Carbon Motors wanted to create a turn-key solution for agencies that offered a long service life, low cost of ownership and excellent functionality.

 

The Exterior
At first glance, the E7 looks all business. With angular lines, integrated front and rear push bars, and a pronounced roof line, the E7 definitely conveys a rough-and-tumble industrial image. The overhead lights are integrated into the roofline for lower noise, better fuel economy, protection from the elements and a stealthy profile.

The E7’s profile clearly shows that the designers worked hard to place the wheels and suspension at the far corners of the car. This feature creates stability, a smooth ride, minimal front and rear overhang, and room for occupants.

The E7’s wheelbase is 122″. By comparison, the wheelbase of the Crown Vic measures approximately 114.7″ long, giving the E7 8 inches more to work with. What’s more telling is that the overall length for the E7 is 200″ vs. 212″ for the Crown Vic. Although the E7 is a foot shorter, it has much more space between the front and rear suspension.

The E7 weighs in at an even 4,000 lbs., which is due, in part, to an aluminum spaceframe designed to withstand 75-mph rear impacts. The E7 weighs about 129 lbs. less than a Crown Vic, and it’s important to note that the E7’s weight includes all of the law enforcement specific-equipment because it’s integrated into the car, unlike the Vic’s 4,129 lb. curb weight. So, the E7 is a lighter, shorter, stouter-looking vehicle than the popular Crown Vic.

Engine, Drivetrain, Brakes & Suspension
Here the E7 makes a dramatic shift from other police offerings. It employs a high-tech, clean diesel engine for its power plant that can run on biodiesel. Now, unless you’ve had your head buried in the sand for the last few years, you know there are many tangible benefits to a diesel engine. First, as Li points out, the service life is more than double that of the average gasoline engine. Diesels in big rigs can go a million miles or more without major service, and Carbon Motors’ forced induction, ultra-low sulphur engine is designed to meet the E7’s projected service life of 250,000 miles.

Second, patrol vehicles spend a good deal of time idling, so a diesel makes sense because diesel engines are traditionally low rpm, high-torque engines. This means they burn fuel at a very low rate at idle, and, with the average patrol vehicle running nearly 24/7, the fuel savings can really add up. The E7 projected to garner fuel economy numbers much higher than the typical 10–12 mpg found in the Crown Vic. Fuel capacity on the E7 is 18 gallons, which is a gallon less than the Vic, but this may not matter because of the fuel economy projections.

Third, diesel engines make a lot of torque. The E7’s engine delivers 300 horsepower and a whopping 420 lb.-ft. of torque. Coupled with a six-speed automatic, the E7 is projected to hit 60 mph in the mid six-second range, while topping out at approximately 155 mph. The ample torque also means that in slow-speed city environments, acceleration will be brisk off the line.

Four-wheel vented disc brakes with an anti-lock brake system will help whoa the car when needed. The brakes are attached to a four-wheel independent suspension that uses struts and coil springs up front and a multi-link, self-leveling coil spring suspension in the rear. Both ends also have anti-roll bars, and the E7 is projected to have a nearly 50/50 weight distribution. This should translate into excellent handling with minimal brake dive. Other highlights include 18″ steel wheels with meaty 245/50R18 tires.

From Concept to Prototype
It’s amazing when a major auto manufacturer completes the production cycle from concept to street car, so the fact that Carbon Motors had a real, live E7 prototype at the International Association of Chiefs of Police’ (IACP) annual conference last month was simply monumental. Yes, it was a prototype, which means the underwear didn’t match the tux, but as far as the way it looked on the outside and inside, it was the real deal. I know because I sat in it, played with the buttons and opened and closed doors that worked liked they’re supposed to.

So, what’s it like? Pretty slick, actually. Sitting in the driver’s seat, the E7 has more technology than early space flights. Want fully integrated video and radar into the MCT? Check. Control all major functions from steering wheel buttons? Check. Fully sealed rear transport area with an intercom and special ventilation? Check. License plate recognition? Check. Integrated LED warning lights that run the length of the roof on all sides for maximum warning, especially at intersections? Check.

This is only a partial list of nearly 70 customizable options the E7 will have when it finally makes production in 2012. For now, what’s most noticeable by sitting in the E7 is how much of the original design, engineering, equipment and style made it into the prototype.

Everything is integrated into the cab, making it a work space free of dangerous aftermarket add-ons that can become projectiles in a crash. The seating position is nice, with the ability to move the driver’s seat back far enough to accommodate a 6′, 7″ driver. According to Stacy Dean Stephens, a retired Texas law officer who originally pitched the idea to Li, the prisoner cage is offset to allow for more room for the driver without compromising the barrier between officers and suspects. Because prisoners are generally transported in the right rear seat, Carbon made the floor space on that side greater and reduced the space on the left to accommodate the offset design. It works well and will go far in helping large officers find comfort during the shift.

Ingress and egress is unconventional in the E7 because the car uses opposing doors for entry, which may or may not work well in the field. I say this because it might make transitions from prisoner searches near the rear of the car a problem when it comes time to insert the prisoner in the car, especially on tight roadways and freeways with sound walls. Then again, it might make them easier, but until I road test it, the jury will remain out on that design.

The E7 prototype at IACP was basically a test mule built on a chassis from an unknown manufacturer, so there was no opportunity to look under the hood or in the trunk. This isn’t unusual in the prototype stage. Overall, the E7 appears to be the real deal, and given the many supplier-partners Carbon has brought on board, coupled with the executive staff of seasoned automotive professionals, the most immediate question I had after sitting in the E7 was: When’s the test drive?


Editor’s Note By Dale Stockton, editor

I had an opportunity to talk with Li, Carbon’s CEO, and I addressed some specific questions with him that I believe a lot of law enforcement administrators would be wondering. Here’s a summary of that exchange:

 

Question: When something happens, where do you go to get it fixed? After all, there’s a Ford dealer in every town with parts.

Answer: Carbon plans on setting up a network of authorized service agents who are trained and capable of working on the car.

 

Question: What do you do with the car when it’s no longer serviceable for police work? It doesn’t seem like we could recycle it like a used Crown Vic car in an auction.

Answer: Carbon agrees that the car should not be placed into the civilian market and anticipates there will be two options for agencies when they reach the end of their vehicle’s service life: 1) They can sell the car to another law enforcement agency either directly or with the help of Carbon, and 2) they may trade it back to Carbon and the company will recycle or refurbish it as appropriate.

 

Question: Currently we recycle lightbars, radios and other equipment to the next vehicle because the life span of these items is much greater than a car’s life span. It appears we can’t recycle such items on the E7 because they’re integrated, and doesn’t that mean we’ll pay for more equipment more often?

Answer: Carbon says studies have shown that agencies that recycle these items actually spend a significant amount of time and money doing so. Carbon believes the integrated approach combined with the E7’s extended service life will actually mean operational savings.

 

Question: Just how much will this specialized police car cost?

Answer: The specific price point has not yet been set, but Carbon believes the price will be competitive with what agencies currently pay when you factor in the price of the car plus the price of the installed emergency equipment. Savings will be realized over the long term because of low operational costs and the car’s long life.

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