By on April 24, 2014


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.

Full gallery here.

1912 Baker Electric Extension Coupe. Full gallery here.

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.

1922 Milburn Electric Light Brougham. Full gallery here.

1922 Milburn Electric Light Brougham. Full gallery here.

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.


1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. Full gallery here.

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.

1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. Full gallery here.

1914 Detroit Electric Model 46 Cape Top Roadster. There are only three surviving Detroit Electric roadsters. This is the same car as pictured in off-white above. After it sold at auction in 2012, the new owner had it resprayed. Full gallery here.

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.

Vintage EV enthusiast Jack Beatty's 1916 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here.

Vintage EV enthusiast Jack Beatty’s 1916 Detroit Electric. Full gallery here.

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.

1931 Detroit Electric Model 97 Opera Coupe. Full gallery here.

1931 Detroit Electric Model 97 Opera Coupe. Full gallery here.

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

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46 Comments on “Do 7,500 Lb. Faux Vintage Electric “Cars” for Central Park Make Sense?...”

  • avatar

    I drive in Manhattan as little as possible, but when I do, I enjoy driving from Central Park through Time’s Square. It’s actually interesting sharing the roads with horse drawn carriages. Though animal-rights SLACKTIVISTS would love to put an end to “horse suffering”, those Horses live 10 times better than wild horses do – probably even some of the humans rallying for them.

    These cars make no more or less sense than Tesla Model S’ being used for Limousines. You’ve still gotta get the electricity from the power grid which means BURNING MORE FOSSIL FUELS (since NYC isn’t nuclear).

    Meanwhile, the Horse drawn carriages simply require feed/hay and produce useful manure (to help grow more plants) and occasionally provide fresh meat for Burger King, Tescos and heads for Jack Woltz.

    • 0 avatar

      Indian Point hasn’t closed yet.

      • 0 avatar

        I read somewhere NY state is gunning to change that, although this is the one of the, or the, only facility Entergy owns which is profitable (I can’t recall which).

        Evidently NRC is upping the license fees too which I imagine further erodes margin:

        Then there’s this:

        “The documented radioactive material is the equivalent of 1000 Hiroshima bombs. 40 YEARS WORTH OF HIGHLY RADIOACTIVE SPENT FUEL IS STORED ON LOCATION.”

        Our own little Fukushima, evidently.

      • 0 avatar
        Dr. Kenneth Noisewater

        Nor has Niagara Falls.

    • 0 avatar

      Indian point, niagra falls, upstate wind farms and reservoir power generators. I agree with all your other points though.

      The biggest irony is that this will definitely result in euthanized animals.

    • 0 avatar

      Depends on what part of the US, and it does not require nuclear to be true.

      “Regardless of the source of the EV’s electricity—be it a coal-fired power plant, nuclear plant, solar array, or wind farm—it will pollute less than a typical conventional gas-powered vehicle over that 162,000-mile lifespan, as shown in UCS’s 2012 State of Charge report…”

      Having posted all that, I think the people who are campaigning to replace the horse-drawn carriages in Central Park and elsewhere need to get a life.

      In any event, I expect the horses will be very unhappy if they all lose their jobs.

    • 0 avatar

      Big Truck, the Tescos and horse-meat reference mean you’ve officially outed yourself as a Brit. ;)

  • avatar

    So with now what do we do with all the retired horses?

    Glue factory?

  • avatar

    I think a classic, restored “old-timey” horseless carriage could be just as much of a “special” experience as the horse-drawn carriages have been, with less mess, smell, and PETA attention.

    Of course, I’m also still a fan of the idea to restore (or build new) the old Checker taxi body shells employing state-of-the-art EV tech.

  • avatar

    I can say as a ny resident that no one ever cared or objected much about the horses in the park. I’d bet that this was some campaign bundlers big issue that the new mayor thought he could slip through as a favor. Forcing these guys to fork out six figures to fix a non problem now strikes me as obscene.

    • 0 avatar

      I thought that was common knowledge at this point — one of the guys who founded NYCLASS is CEO of a company with business that have a heavy presence in the same neighborhood as the horse stable. It certainly seems like they’re just after the real estate.

    • 0 avatar
      Joe K

      In actuality this has been a battle for many many many years, just this is the first time that the animal rights people had a Mayor that agreed with them.

      I don’t know if anyone has seen the NY Daily News headline, but the FBI is starting an investigation to see if NYCLASS crossed the line from lobbying into blackmail in the last election (who knew there was a difference?)

  • avatar

    Why not just buy EV-robot horses to pull the carriages? Then everyone wins, or something like that.

  • avatar

    I don’t think there’s any way to re-body a Leaf or Volt. Full size pickups are the last real “body on frame” vehicles out there. I imagine that the weight requirements for all the vintage looking coachwork, electric motor, battery packs, and up to 8 passengers are what require the F450 vs. a half or 3/4 ton pickup.

    So if you believe that it’s a good idea to replace the horse drawn carriages then yes, a 7500 lb. F450 based faux-vintage electric carriage makes as much sense as anything.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      I agree with your logic. If ‘clean’ and ‘quiet’ are the requirements, this vehicle will beat any ICE.

      Ronnie – I don’t think cradle-to-grave energy concerns were a concern for this project. Seems like they were more interested in solving an operational problem (real or perceived), rather than having a global impact. I agree with the Beverly Hillbillies comment.

      But I really like that 1922 Milburn Electric Light Brougham – very nice shape.

  • avatar
    Kyree S. Williams

    This car has a top-speed of thirty MPH. It won’t have airbags, stability-control, an integrated infotainment system or any of the other things that manufacturers spend millions of dollars developing, and that drive the production costs of their cars up. It really doesn’t even need an involved “platform” in the automotive sense. Since there’s not even a pretense of safety or crashworthiness, it could very well just be a metal ladder frame with an electric power-train bolted to it and some fiberglass or light bodywork on top. So unless this just has a *gigantic* battery (and even then…), I don’t see how it should cost $150K-$175K on a per-unit basis or weigh as much as it does. In all honesty, it looks like something I could build in the garage…and with less weight, too. And yes, the antique styling is tacky.

    Seriously, this reads like a bad April Fools’ joke. And it’s a bit late for that…

  • avatar

    Between 1900 and the beginning of WWI, there were large numbers of battery powered vehicles hauling tourists around Manhattan. Some of those early tourist EVs were quite big….almost as large as a modern bus.

  • avatar

    Is this thing silly?

    Yes. But so is the “romance” of riding in horse-drawn carriage. But that’s just my opinion and I certainly don’t think my opinion really matters in this case.

    The mission is to separate tourists from their Euros (or other currency) at $50-$100 per mile. Comparing this thing (which would ride, perhaps, a mile or two every hour) to real-world electrics isn’t really valid.

    I was once visiting a Buddhist shrine near Kofu City in Japan. Part of the trip involved being carried up a steep road in a Donkey cart. I hated every minute of it. I’m perfectly capable of walking and I really pitied the poor beast. I’m no PETA sympathizer, but that was something I’d prefer never to repeat.

  • avatar
    Dirk Stigler

    AlfaRomasochist’s thought makes sense — you have to be able to easily re-body a donor vehicle, so a body-on-frame truck makes sense. That said, there are smaller, lighter chassis on the market, and the F-450 doesn’t have an electric version that I’m aware of. So it’s still a weird choice.

    Fundamentally, this is an ivory-tower central planner’s project paid for with other people’s money, so it has no need to make either logical or financial sense. And as sure as the sun rises in the east, de Blasio is getting some kind of benefit from it, if only in campaign donations. As long as it ‘makes sense’ that way, nobody with decision power is going to care about anything else.

  • avatar

    If a fascist Democrat mayor of NYC decrees it so, it will happen.

    Cost, money, or practicality be damned.

  • avatar

    What’s wrong with walking through the park, good for the environment,good for the waistline too. I’ve walked through London’s Hyde Park, and Vancouver’s Stanley Park.
    Buy a nice pair of shoes. I suppose that there is a chance of being mugged though, just beef up the police presence, riding horses of course.

  • avatar

    First off, I vote for the horses to stay. They’re not being abused.

    But, if you must replace it with an EV, I’d rather have one that looks 22nd century than 19th.

  • avatar

    I don’t care either way. I hate the smell, the horse poop and how the fuck is riding behind a smelly horse romantic?

    The electric car ride is equally as bad, with no insurance or airbags.

  • avatar

    Forgetting the Central Park ponies for a moment, I never understood why New York didn’t take a page out of London’s playbook and create a modern version of the classic Checker Marathon for taxi duty. Make it electric or Diesel hybrid but make it look like the old yellow cabs that were as iconic in New York as a London Taxi is in London.

    • 0 avatar
      Compaq Deskpro

      It’s a shame that Checkers looked like 58’s, a 57 styled Checker would have been a beautiful thing.

      • 0 avatar

        Haha. I don’t mean to discredit your comment or derail the conversation at all, but your comment reminded me of a friend of mine. If you gave him $1,000,000 cash, he’d say it would be better if the ink was blue.

        But yes, the ’57 with the single headlights would be very cool.

    • 0 avatar

      Not to quibble, but there never was anything uniquely New York about Checker Marathons. Yes, New York was the biggest market for them, but they were made in the Midwest, and there were thousands of them in service in other major cities.

      Black cabs, OTOH, are prevalent in Westminster and the City of London in a way that they aren’t in other parts of the UK (though they are present).

      • 0 avatar

        Not to quibble, but I believe that the Marathon nameplate was only used for retail versions of the Checker car. The taxis got alphanumeric model names, the A8 is the one people associate with big cities, though the Aerobus station hack had a name, not a number. For most of their history, Checkers were made in Kalamazoo and before the A8/Marathon they made other purpose-built cabs. The Gilmore Museum, just north of Kalamazoo, has a display devoted to Checker vehicles going back to the 1920s:

    • 0 avatar
      Joe K

      Former Mayor Bloomberg attempted to do just that, but the courts threw it out for many reasons, including an over-reach of power (according to the NYC charter), and breaking his own promise of clean fueled taxis.

  • avatar

    These make perfect sense!

    Especially if you’re the new mayor and one of your best friends and campaign contributors is a developer who wants to get his hands on the the land where the horse carriages are made.

    And they are electric. So they are environmentally friendly – as cruise ships which dump their sewage into the ocean in the middle of the night are clean.

  • avatar

    When it’s all said and done, that is a really nice vehicle. They did a good job in disguising its modern underpinnings. True, it’s expensive but it is also a one off.

    Still, if it was up to me, I’d stick with the horses.

  • avatar

    This horse thing is just a sideshow. I’ve met Di Blasio twice and he seems like an OK guy, but he’s proving to be mendacious, incompetent and afraid to go to the office.

    I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m beginning to miss Bloomberg.

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