Why does the coolest new car company have to build cop cars?
I like to root for the dreamers in the car business, the visionaries who question the status quo and forge ahead with bold ideas, damn the odds of success. History is littered with companies that took chances with crazy design, technology, or business plans - Tucker, De Lorean . . .uh . . .; Saturn. They didn't make it, but I'm glad they tried. Carbon Motors, would-be maker of a car called the E7, seeks to carve out its niche with a product that can fairly be called revolutionary. Unfortunately, I can't bring myself to cheer for its success, because the E7 is a machine that occupies a distinctly negative corner of my psyche. The E7 is a cop car.
Police cars have a long history as modified production vehicles. Recall Elwood Blues's explanation of his Dodge Monaco - "It's got a cop motor, a 440-cubic-inch 'plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspension, cop shocks." To this day, police departments rely on beefed-up versions of cars that are available to the general public, primarily the Dodge Charger, the Chevy Impala, and the Ford Crown Victoria. Carbon Motors seeks to shake up the cop-car hierarchy by building a machine that is explicitly intended for police duty - a car with cop everything. And it won't be sold to the public.
On paper, the E7 is superior to current offerings. With a 300-hp, 3.0-liter turbo-diesel and a six-speed automatic, it should be nearly as quick as a Charger with fuel economy more in line with a V-6 Impala. The aluminum-spaceframe chassis features rear clamshell doors that make it easier to load the perps in the back. The lights and the push bar are integrated into the bodywork, which makes for better aerodynamics and a distinctively mean look. If you're looking for comparisons to the E7, you could say that it has an engine like a BMW 335d (but with 35 more hp) and a chassis like a Rolls-Royce Phantom (the only other aluminum-spaceframe, clamshell four-door I can think of). The logical person would conclude that this technology would result in a vehicle substantially more expensive than a Crown Vic, which is made of cast iron, burlap, and nails.
Not so, says Carbon, which claims that the "target is to ensure that the initial purchase price of Carbon's purpose-built vehicle will be comparable to what law enforcement agencies are currently paying for a retail vehicle and aftermarket equipment combined. The total cost of ownership is where agencies stand to save a generous sum of money due to the E7's superior engineering, durability, and efficiency." So I think Carbon is saying the E7 will cost more up front but will actually save money in the long term. I believe half of that.
The E7 is engineered for a 250,000-mile life cycle, at the end of which it's taken off the road and recycled. At 250,000 miles, Crown Vic maintenance calls for a new piece of electrical tape over the check-engine light, three Vanillaroma air fresheners, and an inspection of the rear seatbelts to ensure that they're buried beneath the pee-stained vinyl seat. I once talked to a cabbie about the London Cab Company, which, like Carbon Motors, was trying to beat Ford at its own game with a superior product. "Why would I pay more money for something that's going to be harder to fix?" he said.
Good question, and one I would pose to the police departments salivating over the E7. Surely, the E7 is a better police car than a Crown Vic (I maintain that nothing is more badass than a Hemi Charger cop car), but to what end? It doesn't have bulletproof glass. It's not going to get to a crime scene any faster. And, because it won't be sold to the general public, it can't be used as an unmarked car. With budgets hurting everywhere, what police department is going to say, "You know, we'd rather have E7s than another officer on the street"?
If it seems like I'm trashing a spunky little startup and praising the incumbent leviathans, then I plead guilty. Simply put, I think the E7 is overkill. And I don't want my tax money going toward a piece of equipment that will primarily be used to pull me over the moment I venture 12 mph over the speed limit.
But here's my challenge for Carbon Motors: if you can really build this fast, cool-looking, suicide-door diesel sedan for the cost of a police-issue Crown Vic, then you'll do bang-up business selling a civilian version. That's basically all the 1990s Impala SS was - a civilian police car. And if you're selling the modern incarnation of that Impala SS, then that's a business plan I can get behind. Now get going.
Written by: Ezra Dyer Illustration by: Tim Marrs