I’m no fan of feng shui—it’s a little too mystical for me—but in the world of performance automobiles, balance and harmony take on a whole new dimension. When a car is designed, automotive engineers go to great pains to optimize its different systems (such as the brakes, engine, and suspension) so that they will function well together, and to achieve the best overall combination of safety, efficiency and performance. For example, a car’s acceleration and weight, as well as how that weight is distributed, will be taken into account to determine the suspension geometry, and how stiff the springs should be. As anyone who’s modified a car knows, upgrade one part, and you’re soon switching others in order to keep the car reasonably balanced. Don’t believe me? Beef up just the front suspension of your hot rod, and leave the rear alone. It won’t take many sharp curves to illustrate my point.
Which leads us to one of the problems with modern-day police cars. To this point, all cruisers have been more-or-less modified versions of commercial sedans, which are often then again modified by the agency that puts them in service. Light bars, rear partitions, push bumpers, virtually all are agency add-ons, and the change in weight—and weight balance—play havoc with the performance that the automotive designers worked so hard to achieve. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had the ubiquitous CVPI (Crown Victoria Police Interceptor) as both a state car and as a personally owned vehicle, and they’re great cars. I assume the Impala and Charger are likewise great cars, although I don’t have the experience to form a solid opinion of them. Not one of them, however, is purpose-built for use as a law-enforcement vehicle, nor has there yet been such a beast. Enter the E7, newly introduced by the Atlanta-based Carbon Motors, a turbocharged cruiser with an expected service life of a quarter-million miles.
Designed to run on diesel and bio diesel—and, with a projected 420 foot-pounds of torque, to just flat run—the E7 is more than just a new police car. It’s a new paradigm for the police car. Before we get too deep into the car itself, however, let’s take a look at the company behind it.
Describing themselves as a “homeland security” company, Carbon Motors selected their name and logo to symbolize life, and the protection of life against evil, a laudable description of what law enforcement is all about. With an advisory board that includes, among others, Tom Ridge, the first secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the individuals responsible for leading the company are well grounded in their field of endeavor. Several of the board and leadership group members have previously worked for the Ford Motor Company, including founder, Chairman and CEO William Santana Li, who is also a member of the IACP and the Society of Automotive Engineers.
Lean, Efficient Marketing
In addition to the people chosen to help steer the ship, the distribution model they have selected also gives Carbon Motors some serious advantages against The Big Three competition. Simply put, businesses have to make a certain amount of money, or they can’t stay in business, and Carbon’s decision to sell direct, without a dealer network, eliminates the need to sell the bulk of their cars at a price significantly below the retail level.
Another leg up on their competition is what Carbon’s website delicately refers to as “legacy” issues: Since they are a new company, they don’t have a large body of retired workers to whom they must pay benefits. If you’re paying both the labor force that works for your company as well as the labor force that used to work for you, you have to make more money off of each car just to stay in business—and that extra money the consumer pays isn’t going into the car they’re buying.
In spec’ing out the E7, Carbon Motors went directly to the end users for input. Take, for example, the seats, which are designed specifically for drivers wearing their duty gear. In a profession where back problems are common, drivers’ seats can be terribly uncomfortable when you’re half-sitting on cuff cases and lights and knives and such. Not to mention that most seat belts make it difficult, if not impossible, to draw your weapon when you’re buckled. The E7 seat, however, is intended both to accommodate the gear on your belt, and to make it possible to access your sidearm.
Convenience for Criminal Cargo
The rear passenger compartment is also designed for the unique needs of the sort of people you’ll be putting back there. Starting out with what hot rodders know as “suicide doors” and what Carbon refers to as “coach” doors, the rear-hinged back doors are said to give the officer a greater advantage in getting suspects in the car. The Level IIIA ballistic panels that are currently optional for the front doors and dash, also give the officer a certain level of concealment at the rear.
Completely separated from the front compartment by an integrated partition, the rear seating area has a drain plug in the floorboard so it can be hosed out when arrestees vomit—or worse—in the back of your car. Instead of the traditional upholstery, the rear seats also happen to be injection-molded to make sure freshly-caught perps can’t find a place to stash that big ol’ bag of weed on the way to jail. There’s also an optional built-in video system that’ll catch him trying.
Video surveillance is also built into the exterior of the vehicle, with the ability to capture a full 360-degree view of your surroundings, and an automatic license plate recognition system that helps you capture something else entirely—namely, the bad guys. A heads-up display helps you keep your eyes on the road and built-in PIT-capable push bumpers help you encourage a fleeing suspect to put on the brakes.
Forward and rear radar is also integrated, as are the blue lights, takedowns, and alleys. Not only do built-in emergency lights make for a more streamlined appearance than the traditional light bar (without falling afoul of some jurisdictions’ restrictions on “slick top” cars), having the lights built in means the car doesn’t have to have holes drilled in its roof to run all of the wiring.
A Place For Everything
All of the other features you expect from a cruiser—MDT, flashlight recharging station, shotgun and rifle racks—are all part of the E7, but rather than being bolted on after the fact, they’re integrated smoothly into the interior of the vehicle, which makes for a much less cluttered appearance, as well as a sensation of having more interior room.
Similar in external dimensions (and somewhat reminiscent of it in profile) to the Dodge Charger, the E7 is a full six inches taller, which only adds to its muscular appearance. In terms of power, the engine (which is already in production by another maker) is a 6-cylinder, 3.0 liter, dual-turbo diesel engine that puts out 300 horsepower that lands the E7 about halfway between the hemi-powered Charger’s 340 and the CVPI’s 250. Where it beats both, however, is in torque (according to Carbon’s comparisons, it bests the Charger by 30 foot-pounds, and the CVPI by more than 100), and in fuel economy. With a projected combined 28 to 30 miles per gallon, the E7 would come in at nearly 50% better than the Impala, Charger, and CVPI, all of which range in the low-20’s.
The E7 also has the ability to run on bio diesel for additional savings of fuel costs, which is a definite selling point for cash-strapped agencies. Lest you question the value of a patrol car capable of running on what is essentially used deep-fry oil, let me point out that one agency in my jurisdiction actually had its patrol cars repossessed because they couldn’t make the payments. Considering the economic times we’re in, and what may be coming, the long-term savings from the E7’s 250,000 mile service life and reduced fuel costs, if realized in the production car, could give it a considerable advantage over other cars. While no final price has yet been announced, Carbon Motors expects that the E7 will cost about what a fully equipped cruiser costs now. Pricing will be announced in the fourth quarter of 2009. For more on Carbon Motors visit www.carbonmotors.com.
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by Nick Jacobellis / May 4, 2009