• Feb 13th 2009 at 3:29PM
  • 31
Autoblog has followed the developments at Carbon Motors ever since the start-up unveiled its new police cruiser a year and a half ago. And while the car looks impressively good, what makes this company worth watching goes well beyond the product. Carbon has come up with a business model that could let it carve out a profitable chunk of the automotive market that, up to now, was always controlled by major car companies.
The key is that Carbon is building the first-ever vehicle specifically designed for police work. It's based on research from 2,800 law enforcement personnel from 800 different law enforcement agencies spread throughout the United States. From that, Carbon developed a proprietary list of 101 critical items needed to meet the needs of these customers – like a front seat that can accommodate a cop who is 6'10". As a result, this is not a modified version of some mass-market sedan, or a clever combination of parts from a bin. The Carbon Motors E7 is a clean-sheet design for a purpose-built police car.

John McElroy is host of the TV program "Autoline Detroit" and daily web video "Autoline Daily". Every week he brings his unique insights as an auto industry insider to Autoblog readers.

Carbon doesn't even call itself a car company. It calls itself a homeland security company, and aims to join the ranks of the kind of manufacturers that make ambulances and post office, fire and garbage trucks. But by focusing solely on cop cars, it has zeroed in on a juicy little segment that's just ripe for the picking.

There are 17,000 different law enforcement agencies across the U.S. that maintain a fleet of 425,000 cars. Those cars, which are driven a lot and driven hard, go through a lot of turnover, about 75,000 a year. Ford, which dominates the market with the Crown Victoria, sells between 60,000 and 65,000 police models a year. Therein lies the secret to Carbon's business model. It can potentially grab enough volume to get the economy of scale that it needs. But instead of shooting for high-volume production, this Atlanta-based company is adopting a mid-volume business model, and the key to achieving that is how it's designed the E7.

Click above for high-res gallery of the Carbon Motors E7 police car

The car uses a space frame largely comprised of aluminum extrusions, which are very inexpensive to tool up. The body is made of composite panels, with molded-in color. This means Carbon doesn't have to invest in a body shop or paint shop, the most expensive parts of the typical automotive assembly plant. While its piece costs may be higher, it will save hundreds of millions of dollars in up-front tooling costs. And it's relying on suppliers such as BASF, Dura, Lear and Lotus Engineering to provide the expertise and components it can't do on its own.

Carbon's plans are to use a 10-year product cycle. That way it can potentially achieve volumes of 500,000 cars over that time frame, maybe more. And that kind of volume can be quite attractive to suppliers, especially since homeland security companies typically don't go around squeezing their suppliers for price cuts every year, as is typical of the major car companies. Carbon won't talk about what it will charge for its car, but points out the average police car costs around $55,000 once it's equipped with lights, computers, gun racks, radios, partitions, and everything else that goes into them these days. The E7 will cost at least that, probably more. But Carbon's main selling point is that its maintenance and operating costs will be significantly cheaper than those of a Crown Victoria or any other gussied up civilian sedan.

Carbon's main selling point is that its maintenance and operating costs will be significantly cheaper than those of a Crown Victoria
For example, Carbon can mold all the badges and logos for individual police departments right into the panels since they're plastic. That protects them from getting scraped up. But cop cars can still get banged up pretty good, so this arrangement makes it quick and easy to remove and replace them. Less time in the shop means more time for police work. The same goes for heavy-duty brakes that are designed for police work so the pads last a lot longer on this 4,000 pound car. A 300-hp, 420 lb-ft clean-diesel promises to provide 0-60 mph performance in 6.6 seconds with a limited top speed of 140 mph. Yet Carbon claims the E7 will get 40% better fuel economy than a Crown Vic, and that a typical big city police force will save millions of dollars a year with a fleet of E7s.

The company's unique business model includes handling all sales over the internet, building only to order, and delivering directly to the customer. In other words, Carbon will not need any kind of national dealer network to distribute its vehicles, another example of how it plans to hold down costs.

And yet, so far all Carbon has is an impressive plan – on paper. While it has a great looking concept car, that's all it is for now, a concept. The car is far from being fully developed. The company hopes to be in production by 2012, but that seems a long way away for a car that's already been hyped in the press for nearly two years.

Of course, it's better to see the company set realistic goals than just try to hype its way through several layers of angel investors. We've seen enough of that happen before with the wannabees who always seem to roll out exotically expensive sports cars. What I like about Carbon Motors' chances is that it's going after a business model that will make it very difficult for any mass-market manufacturer to follow.


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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 6 Years Ago
      Their business plan has more holes in it than Swiss cheese. First, police departments are very conservative. They don't jump to a new car quickly, even one from a well-established manufacturer.

      Second, almost all towns and cities are under a desperate cash crunch. They are deferring any capital investment that they can. They are laying off police officers. They are keeping their current cruisers longer. They are simply not going to buy a $55k cruiser when they can get a fully equipped Crown Vic for $25k. Not gonna happen.

      Third, aluminum space frame? Who is going to fix that when it gets bent? The local body shop that has been fixing police cars for the town isn't qualified to weld aluminum. The plastic body panels is a good idea, but when the body panels get busted, the space frame underneath will be bent as well.

      Fourth, in the current economy, there simply is no way they can raise enough capital to build a plant and sell cars at a loss for 5 years until they reach a break-even quantity.

      This is a pipe dream, and I really am surprised that you consider it newsworthy.
      • 6 Years Ago
      I don't care their business plan, I find it difficult to believe that a small no-name company can have the resources, experience, and skills to design a cost effective and reliable vehicle. Sorry, but I suspect that an established auto maker sharing tried and true parts out of a bin, along with a shared platform, can build a more reliable vehicle. There's no reason GM or Ford (or perhaps Hyundai, hmmm...) couldn't custom build a police cruiser to accommodate the special requirements of law enforcement.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Thanks for the info on this car, I was wondering how a niche/small market car was going to be competitive cost-wise.

      If Ford didn't drop the ball in terms of updating or replacing the CV, this concept would never get a chance to see the light of day. But since there will be a gap in cop car production in a few years, this product could work. Ford could have also easily customized their CV more to tailor it better for police usage.

      But I agree w/ the above poster, an AL spaceframe may end up being more expensive to fix after crashes, and parts availability and distribution will be slow. Carbon may plan for a 10 year cycle but as this get puts through the ringers in its first few years of service, it may need some significant changes to fix problem areas.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "If Ford didn't drop the ball in terms of updating or replacing the CV, this concept would never get a chance to see the light of day."

        I don't see why Ford would have any urgency to update it. They've got the market pretty much cornered, the only competition they have to fear is the Charger and Impala. And from the few officers I've talked to, the biggest complaint about those two cars is the room in the driver's seat. I'd say the very reason that the Crown Vic/Grand Marquis haven't changed is *because* they sell so many as police cruisers.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I was talking about not only updating the CV in terms of more fuel efficiency and built-in customization that could minimize further modifications required by each PD, but also the more important fact that CV production is set to cease in a couple years. Yeah, that ball.
        • 6 Years Ago
        again, why make that investment? The tooling was paid off for that car sometime during the Clinton administration ;)
      • 6 Years Ago
      This seems as viable as the Checker Cab Company. All most city police need is an economy car that costs $15K before modifications. Look to Europe for inspiration. While the city police are driving the cheap stuff, the highway police get the performance vehicles for high speed chases

      And somehow the numbers seem screwed up. I can't see a Crown Vic (even with gear) costing $50K. That is absurd. A computer, siren, light bar, interior shield, and some decals costs $30K?.

      Another problem is that these won't work as unmarked cars, as they are special for police duty. Anyone will recognize one right away as a police car. The police will continue to buy Dodge Chargers and other rental fleet cars for unmarked use.

      • 6 Years Ago
      Its a great idea, but its going to be tough to beat the OEM's who can tool up and modifiy then fleet out just about any car or truck they want in their arsenal and already have loads of unused capacity.
      • 6 Years Ago
      It doesn't matter that it's aggressive looking, in fact, that's a plus for those of us trying to ID the car as police or not. How many times have you come across an old man in a base model Crown Vic that looks like a cop car and proceed to stay at 55 mph for 2 miles before realizing he's not a cop (yeah, the old bastard wanted it to look that way, otherwise why did he install a flood light and PI blackout on it)?

      The thing that the decision makers are going to see is that this vehicle costs $65k (probably will be accurate) when they can get a Crown Vic and the equipment it needs for $55k. When the car or individual components (including the laptop, lights, etc) wear out, they can be replaced cheaply if this car has parts that wear out, they are going to be very costly to replace due to the lack of volume. A laptop for $1k or some inegrated touch screen computer for $5k that doesn't work any better. What if the two cars are totalled? A new Crown Vic for $20k and switch over equipment or a new E7 for another $65k?

      Then you have to consider that these composite panels and aluminum structure are going to be very costly to replace/repair. All big city police cars are beat to hell, many are in accidents on a daily basis, replacing a simple metal fender and pulling a frame is a whole different ball of wax than having specially trained body techs that know how to repair composites or aluminum structures along with the equipment to perform said repairs.

      Then you come to how the vehicle is used, most of these get beat up because they are used to contact items the police want stopped, they want the ability to block a suspect's vehicle in if they are surrounding them, they want the ability to tap the rear corner of a car to end a high speed chase if necessary, they want to be able to cuff the guy and have him leaned on the car while they're patting him down. The bean counters aren't going to allow this kind of stuff to happen when the repair bills on panels are trippled.
        • 6 Years Ago
        I despise the fact that people can buy retired PI's. I hope if these cars every become reality they are never ever sold to the public.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Well, I don't know where you are but in the Chicago area, there's plenty of white haired old men in newish Crown Vics that have blacked out the area between the taillights, have the black steel wheels, and have had flood lights installed on the driver's door.

        I know the difference between a retired PI and an average Crovn Vic that has been altered to look like a PI, and there's plenty of them around here. They're just hard to distinguish at 55 mph.

        I think these people get off on doing the exact limit in a car that looks like a cop car in the left lane and keeping the other 2+ lanes going 55 when the average speed of a car on these highways is closer to 80 (as long as there's no cops).
        • 6 Years Ago
        "Well, I don't know where you are but in the Chicago area, there's plenty of white haired old men in newish Crown Vics that have blacked out the area between the taillights, have the black steel wheels, and have had flood lights installed on the driver's door."

        er, how can you tell it ain't a retired cruiser? The car has looked the same since 1998.

        No, I am not exaggerating. Not a damn thing has changed on the exterior.
        • 6 Years Ago
        "How many times have you come across an old man in a base model Crown Vic that looks like a cop car and proceed to stay at 55 mph for 2 miles before realizing he's not a cop (yeah, the old bastard wanted it to look that way, otherwise why did he install a flood light and PI blackout on it)?"


        I doubt more than a couple of people actually install that stuff; most of the Vics you see so equipped are former police cruisers bought at auction.
      • 6 Years Ago
      A "purpose-built" police car that truely encompassed the most critical needs for such a vehicle would wind up being very close to the Dodge Polaras and Crown Vics that so many Departments have used during the past 40 years.

      This Carbon Motors vaporware vehicle is going to wind up costing a Police Deparment less money on an annual basis than a Crown Vic...right.
      • 6 Years Ago
      John is the best writer that posts on Autoblog, by far. He doesn't load everything up with stupid puns and terms like "Officially Official."
      • 6 Years Ago
      I have to admit, this may be the funniest post I've read in a long while. The arguments for this "business model" fall apart under the mildest scrutiny, and once again we have a story about how a company that doesn't know what its doing is going to challenge the big automobile companies.

      Hilarious, John. And to think they actually pay him for this stuff?
        • 6 Years Ago
        I agree with this response very much. I think you got this one very wrong John. Here is why:

        1. How can cash strapped cities and states can afford this vehicle cost upfront? It will likely be a lot more than a Crown Victoria (CV) especially since these CV's are considered fleet sales.

        2. Not all law enforcement vehicles are used for high speed pursuit.

        3. I am sure long term contracts are already setup for other major automotive OEM's to sell to this network.

        4. I don't CM will be able to steal enough market share to become a viable company.
      • 6 Years Ago
      $55K?!? Our city got 2 new Charger Police Editions when they came out. When I asked the city manager why he didn't go with more CVs, he told me Dodge was "giving them away" and that they cost about $21K. I don't know if that was before adding all the police gear, but on our city budget, I'm pretty sure they didn't have $34K per car to spend on that.
      • 6 Years Ago
      Thing is John, it's also STUPID. Aluminum costs a ton of money, and is extremely hard to repair. Do cop cars need to be all that fast? Not really. Nobody can outrun police communications, and it's not like this thing is going to be fuel efficient. On top of that, I have a HUGE problem with the styling. Cops should be working for us, not against us. The styling is extremely aggressive, and intimidating. This is equatable to cops wearing full riot gear at all times. I understand that cops want to scare criminals, but MOST people in our country are normal citizens. The cops should be viewed by a normal citizen as approachable, friendly, and helpful. This currently "badass" look does nothing for that, it instead makes them frightening and macho, which is exactly why cops like it. The truth is most cops are on a powertrip for not being that cool in school, and are now getting their revenge on the world by writing moving violations for laws that 90% of the population doesn't follow, PURELY to generate more revenue, so they can purchase even bigger, more expensive dick extensions like this thing.

      I hate this car. It represents everything wrong with our society; it represents powertrips, ego, aggression, and violence. Cop cars do NOT need to be musclecars anymore. We have cameras, communications, and networks that make it damn near impossible to run from them. This car is just another step towards 1984, along with traffic cameras that write tickets. I hope most people realize what they are getting into when they say "Yeah sweet this thing is awesome".
        • 6 Years Ago
        Coming from a law enforcement standpoint, you sir, have no idea what you're talking about. I do not wear all "riot" gear at all times, and I doubt no other officer does either. We wear/ use that equipment for protection. Furthermore, "musclecars" have helped law enforcement apprehend criminals and keep streets safe since well before 1984. As far as the car, I think it'll be a great tool for law enforcement abroad. Our jobs are already hard enough. I welcome anything that helps us out. The car would not appear aggressive and intimidating if you have done nothing wrong.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Corey, apparently you can't read. That doesn't surprise me, considering your career. Reread my statement, and try to understand that I didn't say that you DO wear riot gear, I said this car is like a cop wearing full riot gear at all times. Your lack of communication skills is truly frightening, I hope you aren't trying to "protect" my neighborhood.

        • 6 Years Ago
        I wondered aloud once, back on that dark academy day when we were being certified with the OC spray, why everything we use to subjugate bad people has to hurt. Getting beat up hurts. Batons hurt. Tasers hurt. OC spray hurts like you can't believe. And I've never been shot, but I'm pretty sure it hurts too. I wished that we could have a something like a giggle gun that would make you laugh uncontrollably until you peed, mostly because I felt like my face was melting off while simultaneously being eaten by rabid PCP-crazed fireants from Hell.

        The sad reality is that flowers and smiles don't make the world a safer place. Most of the world isn't bad. But the part of the world that is bad doesn't really care about societal norms or others' lives. So that's why your average officer is carrying around some 20lbs of gear. And you may think some of it's scary, like my gun which was named Giggles because of the story above.

        As your ordinary member of law enforcement, I hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Every day could be the day it all ends for me. It only takes one mistake on my part or one moment of luck on a bad guy's part for me to be snuffed out so some shmuck can keep the four or five rocks in his pocket or the $30 he just stole. So I spend my free time running the desert trails regardless of the temperature because I can't accept someone outrunning me. I hit the gym almost every day because if I'm overpowered in a fight I die. And I've had to fight multiple people before- and it's not like the movies. It's ugly, it's awkward, it hurts, and people don't go down easily but they do get back up quickly. I can't get tired and I can't lose. I train and drill incessantly so that everything is second nature in emergency situations when coordination begins to suffer. I keep my hair short so it can't be used as a handle and I miss the days when it was a little bit longer and prettier. My nose isn't straight. I wear boots and I keep them polished. I have a very dry, macabre sense of humor because it gets me through the graphic interviews with sex offenders and seeing lots of dead things. I'm regarded as cold and callous, quiet, and even sometimes anti-social because I keep these things to myself and because I'm wary of strangers.

        I apologize that my appearance is aggressive in your opinion. But there's a reason for it all. I go places that you avoid at all costs. And I do it after dark. I have to be scarier than the people you should rightfully fear. I maintain social order by enforcing the rules. I am the guard dog of society and I protect you while you sleep. It would be great if law enforcement could be jovial like Santa, but that wouldn't be conducive to the job's requirements.

        When I interact with your grandmother I am polite and courteous. When I deal with yuppies like you that get all "Judy Attitudy" on me, I maintain my professionalism while I chuckle to myself inside about how you think you know my job or how you think you're so hard and tough. Your opinion is misguided and wrong, so I brush it off. I don't need or want your thanks. This job is the greatest on earth and that's more than enough for me. I do this because I love it. I prefer to do without the glitz and glam of the firefighter's life because that doesn't suit me.

        All I ask of you, Other Rob, and the people like you, is to go for a ridealong with your local police department. Do it at night, and see if you can do it in one of the rougher parts of your town or state. You'll really never understand who the police are and what they do until you've been there. So just give it a try so you can better form your opinion.
        • 6 Years Ago
        Right on - this is just an enabler for power-tripping cops. While a purpose-built car might be a good idea for interior design, storage, and other considerations, the car does not need to nor should it look menacing. Are you telling me that this cop car will scare criminals into the straight and narrow? I don't think so. This will simply serve to strike fear in the minds of ordinary citizens during their encounters with cops (e.g. a traffic citation).
        • 6 Years Ago
        @Rob (66droptop) @corey r:
        In regards to cops, between the two of you, I'm seeing quite a bit of the good, and a little bit of the bad. Rob (66droptop), what you said there was beautiful, but more importantly it was deeply human. I think sometimes people forget that you guys are just that. I wish there were more like you.

        Corey r, there are two things I have a problem with that you said.
        "Coming from a law enforcement standpoint, you sir, have no idea what you're talking about."...
        "The car would not appear aggressive and intimidating if you have done nothing wrong."
        The first comment is dismissive and just as narrowminded as you'd have people believe the OP was.The second comment reeks of the us vs. them attitude which has crept into many departments, often leading to open disrespect for the public and an overreaching of ones authority. If the police begin to abuse a community, it's only natural that people see them as a threat rather than a safeguard.

        In my own community I've scene police abuse, threaten, or attempt to intimidate people who did nothing to deserve it. I myself have been repeatedly harrassed by one cop in particular who has been on the force for over a decade. Everytime I've scene him in public, he's being hostile to some poor guy or gal, and in return the force throws as many badges as possible at his uniform. What did I do to deserve his repeated attention? I have no idea. I'm 100% clean, and so is my record. I don't drink often, I don't do drugs. I don't look like a hippy, freek, or gangbanger. I'm respectful, and I don't cop an attitude. Although I am relatively poor. Guess it's just my fault for having the nerve to live here.

        I guess my point is, when it goes unchecked, that attitude leads to looking at the public at large as an enemy. If it's pervasive enough, the public will eventually start looking at the police as an enemy. That's a big problem. Once that perception becomes entrenched on both sides, it's very difficult and time-consuming to reverse it and repair the lost respect. Better to just not go there in the first place.
      • 6 Years Ago

      What about a Pontiac G8 Police cruiser?
        • 6 Years Ago

        You mean like these?

        They're the standard Australian police car - Holden SS Commodores or Ford Falcons - both with the Police Pack option from either factory (steel wheels, vinyl interior, HD suspension and diff, high-output v8, etc).

        When they're done with them (~100,000kms), they strip the police gear and decals from them, and auction them off to the public. Check the listings here (the Brisbane auction will be the biggest), to see any that are listed as police vehicles:

        They're good, versatile vehicles that are easily modified for police work, and then easily returned to original condition and resold to help re-coup money. The v8's are used for highway patrol duty, but most of the urban vehicles are the standard 6 cylinder (v6 for the commodores, straight-6 for the falcons). The police have some bright red "Red Baron" highway patrol interceptors, that look a lot like these ones :

        Commodores and Falcons have been the backbone of the Aus police fleet for many decades now. Much like the CV's have been in the US. However, unlike the CV's which have been basically unchanged for the last 10 years, the Oz police simply buy whichever the current model cars are, and upgrade every few years.

        Matto :)
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