An animal rights group, NYClass (New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets), used the New York Auto Show to introduce the brass-era style electric vehicle that they and NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio want to replace the 68 horse drawn carriages that 300 carriage drivers use to carry tourists and others around Central Park. I’m not going to wade into the animal rights debate about the horses, and I actually think that the mayor’s idea to use vintage looking electric cars makes some sense. The Luddites who decry modern technology have no idea just how filthy cities were when we relied on animal, not machine, power (and how much arable land was used farming to feed all those draft animals). However much sense it makes to use EVs as tourist vehicles, the vehicle that is being promoted – the Creative Workshop’s ‘eCarriage’ – just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. If you were going to make an electric vehicle to carry people around the park, and you were concerned with it’s environmental footprint, would you start out with something as big and as heavy as a Ford F-450 Super Duty truck?
Everybody that knows anything about electric cars knows that weight is the enemy. Every gram of weight in the car’s structure decreases range and is one gram less that can be devoted to batteries. That’s why the Tesla Model S is made of aluminum (and now a thin titanium plate to protect the battery pack – Tesla undoubtedly chose Ti because of its strength to weight ratio). It’s also why much of BMW’s effort in making the i3 and i8 electrics is devoted to mass producing lightweight carbon fiber parts.
The eCarriage seats eight, weighs 7,500 lbs, and has a 63 kW (84 hp) electric traction motor driving the rear wheels, powered by an unspecified lithium ion pack, and has a top speed of 30 mph, though it will be restricted to 5 mph in and near the park. Cities like Santa Fe and Chicago have also expressed interest in the vehicle. Jason Welig, who runs Creative Workshop, says that depending on the production quantities,the company would “shoot for $150,000 to $175,000″ as a per vehicle cost. The prototype, funded by NYClass, cost $450,000 to build.
Like I said, I’m not opposed to the idea, and the eCarriage appears to be beautifully made, but when I read about the vehicle they plan on using, I had to question why they decided to use something so big and heavy. I realize it’s more of a bus than a car, but I suspect that there are 8 passenger SUVs that are more energy efficient, from cradle to grave, than the eCarriage. The eCarriage, also, is not entirely free of using fossil fuels. To keep the passengers warm in winter the eCarriage has heaters, fired with propane. Finally, the car enthusiast in me finds the faux brass era styling offputting. Much more to my liking would be if they made replicas of actual vintage electric cars, only with modern running gear.
Electric cars from companies like Columbus, Detroit Electric and Milburn were marketed as “Town Cars” and they look just fine in the city. If I was in charge of the project, I wouldn’t use a Ford F-450 as a donor vehicle, I’d start out with something like the Nissan Leaf or Chevy Volt. Both are cheaper than a F-450. Then I’d have someone like Creative Workshop make replicas of a couple of Detroit Electric models and mount the replica period bodies on the modern EV chassis.
In particular, I think the Detroit Electric Roadster looks rather jaunty in general and certainly compared to the rather immense eCarriage (which sort of gives off a Beverly Hillbillies truck vibe to me, YMMV). While none of the Detroit Electric body styles can carry seven passengers, neither can the horse drawn carriages currently in service. I think a small fleet of them would look more charming in Manhattan (and in other cities that have horse drawn and other tourist livery services) than a bunch of the big eCarriages.
I was going to ask our readers, if you were going to take a ride around Central Park in a vintage looking electric car, which would be more appealing to you, a Detroit Electric roadster or town car, or the eCarriage, but it’s a moot point. It turns out that despite NYClass’ efforts to promote the electric truck, New Yorkers seem to prefer the horses.
In response to the introduction of the eCarriage at the NYAS the New York Times officially editorialized, Keep the Carriage Horses, and the New York Daily News launched a “Save Our Horses” campaign. The Christian Science Monitor reports that a Quinnipiac poll earlier this year showed that 60% of New York voters opposed Mayor De Blasio’s plans.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS