By on June 14, 2013

The video above is the closest we’ll ever have to enjoying a World’s Wildest Police Chases segment featuring the Carbon Motors E7. Somewhat lost in the breaking news of March regarding the bankruptcy of Fisker Automotive and Coda was the demise of the nation’s other other startup vehicle manufacturer, the Carbon Motors Corporation. Although Bertel correctly predicted Carbon’s death shortly after they failed to qualify for a DOE loan last year, the company maintained a brave public face and soldiered on defiantly until the end of March. As late as mid March they were announcing the introduction of two new vehicles: an armored truck called the TX 7 and a skateboard shaped drone called the CT 7.  Two weeks later they would be slipping out of their Indiana state taxpayer funded digs  without so much as a “Dear John” letter to the desperate Hoosiers who needed the jobs they’d promised

I’d been watching and waiting for an official announcement that the company had liqudated before poking the body with a stick. That moment finally came on June 7 with a Chapter 7 filing in Indianapolis. The bankruptcy filing shows that Carbon Motors had assets of less than $19,000 and outstanding liabilities of over $21 million. It seems that the dream of a purpose-built police car is dead.

In the post-mortem analysis, there are three questions that I think need to be answered. The first, which this piece will attempt to address is “Was there really ever a market for a dedicated police vehicle?” The second question is “Was Carbon Motors all just a big scam to suck at the government teat?” The third question is “Did the Big 3 learn anything from Carbon Motors that will benefit police and emergency vehicles in the future?’ Those opinion pieces will be forthcoming, but for now I just want to focus on the first question of whether it was ever a good idea.

To narrow the scope of this piece even further, I’m also going to limit my analysis to the fiscal case against Carbon Motors. There were other bad ideas, such as using a BMW powertrain combo that would be difficult to get serviced in wide swaths of flyover America, but I believe what would have really killed the Carbon E7 was it’s projected cost. Yes, I know many of you will laugh when I say that fiscal austerity matters to government, but the truth is that at the state and local level it does. State, county, and local governments buy the vast majority of patrol cars, not the Federal government. Unlike the Feds, they can’t print money.

The E7 concept struck me as the answer to a question that nobody asked. While readers will no doubt recall my documentation of and endless bitching about the shortcomings of the Ford Police Interceptor Sedan and the Dodge Charger, I just didn’t see the need for a dedicated patrol vehicle, particularly for one at the price point that the Carbon E7 was rumored to cost. The price point was a moving target and never officially disclosed by Carbon. Their representatives were always cagey, claiming that their car would come straight from the factory at a price that was “competitive” to a “completely equipped” patrol car.

“Completely equipped” in Carbon’s viewpoint meant a car loaded down with every crime fighting tool and toy ever invented, from the necessary and mundane stuff like lights and a siren to the fantastic yet probably not necessary such as their biological and chemical agent detectors. The first estimate that I can remember hearing was $70,000. A search of articles about the E7 archived through the Wayback Machine gave me estimates ranging from $50K in a 2009 article to a statement in 2008 by Carbon Motors officials that the average cost of a fully equipped police car was $80,000.

That’s an insane amount of money for a patrol car. I spoke with the technicians at my department’s fleet services unit and asked how much extra it costs to completely outfit a new cruiser. The reply was “About $10,000.” That sounds like a lot of money, but through the magic of the public bid process, it’s actually not. The taxpayers get a lot of stuff for ten large that really is necessary to turn a Taurus with blacked out trim and a cheap interior into a functional patrol unit. The Carbon Motors’ estimate of $80K per completed unit is way off. It raises the question of whether or not you could even spend that much money on a patrol car if you tried, so I did.

Using the fleet pricing information I got when I wrote my article on the Dodge Charger, I started off with a basic V-8 powered RWD Charger Pursuit for $23,585. I added $1,460 worth of factory options (wheel covers, Bluetooth, a few other odds and ends) for a total price of $25,045 for the basic car delivered from Dodge.

I then used retail pricing from Gall’s and other emergency equipment vendors to add everything else I could dream of to a patrol car. Whenever there was a choice in a piece of equipment, I picked the mid- range/ mid- priced option. I “spent” $2,375 on lights, which included a full light bar as well as a UFO’s worth of extra strobes hidden in the foglights, grille, and other places on the car. A mid- level RADAR unit went for $2,300, while a video recording system costs $3,200. A Panasonic Toughbook, which is one of the most popular choices for use as a Mobile Data Computer, was $3,500.

By the time all was said and done I came up with a total of $14,440 worth of additional pieces and parts. Add that to the base price of the car and you get $39,485 for a complete patrol car, less than half of what Carbon Motors claimed a fully equipped patrol car would cost in 2008.

No, a cash strapped police department (and there isn’t any other kind these days) could have two fully equipped patrol cars for $80,000 and that’s only if the person in charge of purchasing was stupid enough to pay retail for everything and the agency insisted on adding every bell and whistle invented to every car. The vast majority of department’s don’t add half of the stuff I added to my dream cruiser and none of them add everything to every car.

Carbon Motors appeared to operate on the theory that police departments do. One of the innovations that Carbon claimed was the establishment of their “Carbon Council,” which did manage to achieve some acclaim as an early example of crowd sourcing. While Carbon’s website makes the “Carbon Council” sound like a highly screened and elite panel of law enforcement experts selected to give valuable input into the police car of the future, in practice the group appears to have served up the law enforcement equivalent of The Car Built For Homer.

As a low-level cog in the Big Blue Machine of an urban police department I’m always more than happy to grumble about the condition of various pieces of my equipment to my fellow low-level cogs, but I don’t want the high level cogs to spend $80,000 on a single super cruiser. One of the (many) hats I wear is that of union goon Grievance Committee Chairperson for Bluegrass Lodge #4 of the Fraternal Order of Police. Our fleet has been neglected over the last couple of budget cycles and we’ve got some pretty ancient Crown Vics on the road. It appears we’re finally going to be getting a decent number of new cars this coming fiscal year. If the powers that be were going to buy only half the number of cars to replace some of our more ragged out units because they wanted to buy Carbon E7s instead of Ford Police Interceptors, I can assure you that the union would throw a very public fit. Municipal financing is a zero sum game.

The fiscal case for Carbon Motors never made sense, which explains why the company was never able to attract private investment. If a simple union goon with an Associate’s Degree in Police Studies gets that, than obviously people who are paid to make and manage money for other people would get it too. The only entity silly enough to invest in Carbon Motors appears to have been the state of Indiana. Part two will examine how that happened.


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33 Comments on “Cop Won’t Drive Cop Car: Carbon Motors Declares Bankruptcy...”

  • avatar

    ” A UFO’s worth of extra strobes”- well put. My wife and I always marvel when the new cops cars are seen on the road. Each year with more strobe lit crap than the year before. Next is LED’s on the exhaust tips and pulsating rocker panels. And they wonder why cops get hit. Drive by one at night and you’re blinded by the light bar literally. Other than the obvious “shock and awe” psychology, I ask, really?

    • 0 avatar

      This is so true. They’re agressively bright. Dangerously so.

      • 0 avatar

        They really do need a day/night switch. I very nearly had a serious accident when completely blinded by a pair of state cop cars parked on the side of the road at night. Luckily, I had slowed to a crawl, because I completely could not see the black TOW TRUCK parked across the road in front of them hauling a car out of the ditch! Had I been the usual brain dead moron driving on autopilot, I would have nailed the thing.

        • 0 avatar
          David Hester

          My patrol cars with Whelan strobes in the lightbar had a dimmer switch. This would have been in ’97- ’04, before I went inside. I would assume that our newer models with new style lightbars would have a dimmer switch as well, but I’ve never really checked.

          To be honest I’d usually forget that it was there unless I was on a call for a particularly long time and happened to notice how bright they were. Its one of those things you tend to tune out when you’re around it all the time.

  • avatar

    Kool. How many parsecs to make the Kessel run in that thing?

    If I were a cop, I’d be insulted by that video. Clearly aimed at the pre-teen boy demographic.

    • 0 avatar

      Maybe the computer game was part of the business plan? Could the $21 million gone into developing that video and programming, with the police car biz as a front to finance development? If the “hot pursuit” game comes out, owned by the company that produced the video…

      PS: My sister says I think like a crook. I am not a crook! I’m the suspicious sort.

      • 0 avatar

        No. Just no. Where do I start?

        First off, the game was developed by Criterion Games, perhaps best known for the Burnout series of racing games, and published by EA Games, a large and well-known game publisher. Carbon Motors had nothing to do with it, other than giving the OK for the E7 to be included as one of over 20 playable police vehicles.

        Second, the game came out almost three years ago, in November 2010, so you’re a little late to that party. Since then, three more games in the Need for Speed series have been released; Shift 2: Unleashed, The Run, and Most Wanted, with a fourth game, Rivals, scheduled to come out next month. All games in the series feature real, licensed cars, including police versions of those cars in the games that feature the ‘Hot Pursuit’ versus mode.

        Third, the video above was uploaded by someone who recorded themselves playing the game, not by EA Games and not by Carbon Motors. These ‘Let’s Play’ videos, as they’re called, actually constitute the bulk of Youtube videos; more people upload videos of themselves playing video games than they do of anything else.

        If this conspiracy theory of yours is anything to go by, your sister is wrong. You don’t think like a crook, you think like a whack-a-loon. Please don’t be a whack-a-loon, think critically about your ideas and suspicions instead of getting carried away with them like you’ve done here.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      Don’t be insulted, that is easily the best non-simulation racing game I have ever played. Every modern performance car has a police car variant, it is whacker heaven. And there’s this paint job:


      • 0 avatar

        Agree. Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit is a blast. Hardily realistic, but great fun. I’m sure a standard issue P71 Crown Vic doesn’t have nitrous, powder coated alloys or cross drilled rotors….. but it sure is fun demolishing stuff with it!

  • avatar

    “No, a cash strapped police department (and there isn’t any other kind these days)”

    Best guess is that this company took a look at some of the pork the HSA was handing out to buy armored personell carriers for small sherrif departments and thought they would have even more fun blowing it on this. Hopefully those days are gone for a good long time (pork never really dies).

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    A bad idea conceived at a very bad time (economically) when every city and town is watching their budget, here comes this BMW of police cars trying to take over the hole left by the death of the panther cruiser, even if there had been no Charger or Taurus, this thing would have never taken off.

  • avatar

    From its inception, the whole project smacked of something Dick Jones would shove down the board of OCP’s throat…

    • 0 avatar

      I thought so too. It was going to be incredibly expensive and didn’t necessarily provide a much better option to law enforcement than a traditional law enforcement package on a regular mass-market car.

      Carbon didn’t have the benefit of the economies of scale that the Detroit 3 have, so it was inevitable that they wouldnt succeed with a product with such a narrow focus.

      It did look cool though. Then again, so did ED-209.

  • avatar

    Even if you wanted a big fast cop car – you would be better off with a Big Benz or Big BMW – economy wise then this thing. It’s amazing how much capital bad business can raise..

    I am also mystified by a new campaign to put battery recycling machines in grocery stores.

  • avatar

    In a different article, I read that the $19,000 in total assets INCLUDES the prototype. If it runs, I could imagine paying $2000-3000 for the prototype just as a lark, and I don’t have much more than that in my checking account.

  • avatar

    “union goon” strike out-made me laugh. Thanks.

    I second the notion that the lights on modern police cars are getting a bit much. Recently I had a cop pass me to nab the speeder in front of me. It was after midnight and I was getting weary on a long interstate drive. When he hit the light show I was blinded briefly. I’m sure that this helps prevent drunks from hitting cops on the side of the road but I’ve seen less lasers and brights at a rock concert.

    Now, I want to know the bright politicians who thought it was a good idea to spend tax dollars on this boondoggle. They are always there for the ground breaking announcement but never found for the bankruptcy proceedings. $21 million in debt and $19K in assets? Must have been government money as no private funding would have got this far out of balance.

    • 0 avatar
      David Hester

      Part two is in the works already, but it’ll be a couple days due to some Father’s Day obligations this weekend.

    • 0 avatar

      I have no idea how this would help prevent cops from being hit on the side of the road. Sure, you can’t miss the cruiser. Unfortunately, you can’t see anything else. This causes sane and sober people to slow way down if they are in the right lane, but I wouldn’t expect it to save police from drunks. The blue strobes are the worst.

      Some departments used to use mostly red strobes in the rear. I noticed this mostly in NY/NJ. A lot easier on the eyes at night. Why didn’t this catch on? Not bright enough in the day?

  • avatar

    Thank you David ;

    FWIW RE : ” As a low-level cog in the Big Blue Machine of an urban police department ”

    As a Detective (?) you’re one of the most important parts of Law Enforcement , along with the boots on the ground Blue Suits who drive the radio cars .


  • avatar

    The US is not a police state. We never needed the excess that was Carbon Motors E7 to catch bad guys. We sure as hell didn’t need police departments spending $80k of taxpayer money on cruisers.

    They were banking on taxpayer $, not private capital. A bad idea from jump street.

  • avatar

    In 1996, I had a fantasy of buying up all of GM’s B-body tooling and continue producing Caprice cop cars. Last year, the fantasy got updated to Crown Vics. I still say that the realization of those fantasies would have me a billionaire. But what do I know. I vaguely remember having those thoughts when Checker shut down…

  • avatar

    Still much rather have this:

    In all seriousness though, I never saw the Carbon as being feasible either. I knew for sure when they announced that they would be using BMW diesel engines. As David Hester mentioned, diesel fuel isn’t available at every gas station, which could be a major problem. Also servicing would be an issue, I’m willing to bet that most police fleet mechanics wouldn’t be able to service a diesel car, so if you were unfortunate to bite on the E7, you’d have to train your current mechanics and/or hire ‘diesel’ mechanics…. which equates to more money spent. Also parts availability would be another issue…. to fix a P71 Crown Victoria Police Interceptor you could go with OEM Ford, Napa, wrecking yard or your own wrecked cruisers and fixing them isn’t too difficult as the CVPI is a pretty simple car, I can imagine the Carbon is the exact opposite! More money to spend when it’s already taped out. You have no option other then Carbon itself and I could imagine parts being an arm and a leg since it would be very much a captive audience.

    Also here’s my own opinion of why the Carbon would be shunned by cops and I do have a historical example. The E7 is a weird looking car, period. True a police car isn’t required to be beautiful, but my case in point is the ’91 Chevrolet Caprice. When it came out, it was pretty outrageous and many cops just flat out didn’t like the way it looked. I thought it looked goofy with the rear fenders covering up most of the rear tire. Police officers gave it derisive names like whale, Hudson and bathtub. It was a departure from the boxy previous Caprice, Dodge Diplomat/ Plymouth Gran Fury and Ford LTD Crown Victoria. This helped Ford sell more of the more conservative and traditional LTD Crown Victoria back then as it “looked” more like a police car. The caveat was though that the Caprice was shaped that way for a reason and with the same carry over L05 190 hp 350 V8, it could hit 130MPH (with no light bar but still impressive for the times) where the Ford would struggle to reach it’s 119 MPH top speed with it’s 351 Windsor topped off with a craptastic 2 barrell variable venturi carb.

    Also going back to the Carbon, I read somewhere that when a E7 patrol car reaches ‘retirement’, unlike most fleets where the cars get auctioned off to be future taxis or Bluesmobile tributes, or in the case of the Chicago PD, being totally used up then scraped, the E7 would have to be either sent back to Carbon to be refurbished and resold, or the other possibility would be selling the car to another agency. That part makes sense as you wouldn’t want a specialized police car in public hands, but it does limit your options when it comes time to retire car.

    Regardless, either way it doesn’t matter, but is really anybody suprised that it went down this way?

    • 0 avatar

      I agree with the issue of diesel complexity concerns, especially with the advent of stricter particulate matter and NOX standards that came into effect since the E7’s inception and now. Since police cruisers spend a good part of their life idling, they would soot pack the particulate filter with alarming frequency. Let’s be honest, the average constable isn’t going to give a damn about completing a regeneration cycle.

      In addition, the added cost of diesel exhaust fluid, as well as more frequent fuel system maintenance and more expensive parts would make this a non-starter for a lot of departments.

  • avatar

    Well-written, amusing, factual piece. Thanks, Det. Hester.

    I’m wondering how much of the $21-million-in-hock “investment” has diappeared offshore, and which non-extradition-treaty nation the brass has retired to.

    I always thought the Carbon was Overkill 101-404, inclusive. And a BMW powertrain? LOL. What alternate reality does that come from?

    In fact–correct me if I’m wrong here–I’ve thought for a while now that something light and agile, like an HHR or Soul, could accomplish 98% of police beat missions.

  • avatar

    I think the car looks strange and it sucks, but it would have been great for the new Robocop movie.

  • avatar

    Is this an awkward time to bring up Panther Love?

    • 0 avatar
      Andy D

      No fooling, There was a brief flurry of Chargers in the local PDs. Then the CVs got those new fangled transfers they do instead of paint, now-a-days. Ford doesnt need to make any more Panthers, just keep selling “factory” parts for them. Now they’re using Expeditions

  • avatar
    Glenn Mercer

    Minor comment: I don’t know enough about Carbon to say anything about whether in recent years their main reason for existing was to capture DOE AVTM funds. However, I think it is pretty safe to say that was not their ORIGINAL intent, since they were founded in 2003, and ATVM came along in 2008. I think originally they just wanted to make and sell police cars… which I guess one can call sucking at the government teat, but then again, that label would cover anyone selling anything to any government, whether pencils to the local city hall or bombers to the DOD.

  • avatar

    I’m going to need to practice my Adobe CS skills if I’m going to get a DOE loan. I’m building a solar powered Presidential limo.

  • avatar

    Part of Carbon Motors schtick was that the vehicle was to be “upgrade-able” for future engine, transmission, electronic upgrades once the police entity owned it.

    For a price of course…

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