Back in 2008 when I was recording and publishing motoring podcasts, I recorded a piece about a new car company that had been created to deliver purpose built police cars. Unfortunately the company and concept didn’t succeed despite being a sensible option for police forces the world over. A typical police car today is basically a modified car from an existing manufacturer, be it Ford, General Motors (Chevrolet, Holden or Opel for example) and Dodge or if the police officer is lucky (i.e. living in Italy or Dubai), a Lamborghini or other exotica!
Carbon Motors, founded in 2003, was the brainchild of a group of industry execs with an ex cop helping them. William Santana Li was the CEO, Trevor Rudderham, the Chief Development Officer who started at Jaguar before going to Ford in the US, Alan Bratt was the Chief Production Officer and Keith Marchiando was the CFO. The idea was simple – why modify a car when you can build one that is purpose built, meaning that it is designed to deal with handcuffed passengers, is tough, fast and economical.
Their car, the Carbon E7, was just that. Powered by a 300hp 3 litre BMW turbo diesel, the car was designed using input from several law enforcement agencies to be fit for purpose. Performance was good: 0-60mph in 6.5 seconds and a top speed of 150mph. The motor was chosen to give better fuel economy than the competitive Ford or Chevy (aka Holden Commodore) models and was mated to a 6 speed automatic gearbox with a rear drive configuration. Body panels were developed to incorporate the emergency lights and speakers etc thus improving the aerodynamic efficiency of the vehicle – which in turn helped improve the fuel economy.
The interior was fitted out with all the necessary technology for communications, video, licence plate recognition etc and it had 360º surveillance equipment that recorded automatically. How many times in recent months have we seen events that this technology would have prevented? If both the officer and assailant knew they were being recorded, the outcomes could have been so much better.
The rear passenger cell was washable without affecting the front mounted electronic equipment and it had built in gun racks! Security was a big design feature of the vehicle, protecting the officers from the passengers or outside attacks. Carbon fibre panels were designed to be replaced quickly so that in the event of damage, the car could be recommissioned quickly. The rear doors were “suicide” because this made it easier to get the handcuffed passengers in and out.
The business behind the car did not want the baddies to get a version of the car, so the deal was that any old cars would be shipped back to the factory to be reconditioned or split and recycled. The expected life of the car was 250,000 miles, significantly higher than any of its rivals. This was to help with the payback of the purchase.
What went wrong?
Nothing technically. The prototypes were built and toured the US in a roadshow called the “Pure Justice” tour and many State police departments expressed an interest. However, to manufacture the vehicle, the company needed cash – and lots of it. Initially the company moved from Los Angeles to Atlanta whilst they developed the design and hunted for investment. Then they found an old manufacturing plant on Indiana and intended to spend $350M converting the factory and starting production.
The US Government had set up a funding scheme called the Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing program through the Department of Energy and Carbon Motors naturally saw that as a way to gain the investment needed, after all, they wanted to manufacture a vehicle using advanced technology thus achieving all four points of the program! However the Government rejected their request for $300M citing the financial status of the company. It was around the time of the US elections in 2012 and there was a suggestion, later retracted, that the decision was politically motivated.
So Carbon Motors failed to produce any vehicles – a sad situation considering the fact that they were like any other startup looking for investment to build a world class product that would have significantly disrupted the market. Police departments the world over would have bought their vehicles because of the payback, safety and security of the product. This would have enabled the company to pay back the Government loans and provide job security for thousands of workers. In my opinion, this was a very short sighted decision by the Government at the time – they had bailed out Chrysler and GM and were receiving payback from both at the time – this could have been redirected towards Carbon Motors. On the other hand, providing cash to Carbon would have reduced sales slightly for GM and others and that may have influenced the decision.
By 2013, Carbon Motors was officially defunct and the world had lost an evolution in design and as I said, potentially this vehicle could have saved lives with the surveillance equipment on board.