The Carbon Motors E7 prototype patrol vehicle looks something like a cross between an exotic sports car and a prop vehicle from a science fiction film. Its body styling is dynamic, muscular, almost startling, and it has the ability to visibly excite police audiences.
But its real beauty is much more than skin deep. It has a scalloped driver's seat that allows a full-size human being loaded down with cop gear to get in and out easily; it has a molded plastic passenger compartment that can be hosed out and even features two drain plugs in the floor board; it has side airbags to prevent the driver from dying in a T-bone accident; and it has a built-in computer and communications system that can be operated by voice command. In other words, the E7 was built to enhance the efficiency, comfort, convenience, and on-the-job safety of police officers.
The E7 patrol vehicle, scheduled to be produced in 2012, is a product of collaboration between law enforcement officers and forward-thinking auto executives.
It began in the imagination of Stacy Dean Stephens, a former patrol officer in the Dallas suburb of Coppell, Texas, who started to wonder why no one had ever made a purpose-built patrol car for law enforcement officers. After all, Stephens thought, firefighters and soldiers have vehicles built specifically for their missions. So why not cops?
After several of his fellow Texas officers were killed or badly injured in patrol car accidents, Stephens said to himself, "Enough is enough." And he decided to undertake what many would consider a fool's quest: He decided to convince car execs that cops need a new car that is built just for law enforcement duty.
Stephens, who is now co-founder and sales development manager of Atlanta-based Carbon Motors, started making a pest of himself. And he finally found a guy who was willing to listen: William Santana Li, a former Ford executive who was looking for a challenge.
Li, like Stephens, has a dream: He wants to change the way that cars are made in America. He believes that the auto industry had overlooked certain markets that could be quite lucrative. "I was looking at various niches and law enforcement was on my radar when Stacy contacted me," Li says.
So when Stephens brought the idea of a purpose-built patrol car to Li, the auto exec decided to listen to the pitch out of courtesy and respect for a first responder. And because the idea intrigued him, he told Stephens that he had 30 days to convince him that such an undertaking was viable.
Li is now CEO of Carbon Motors. "If he knew then what he knows now, he might not have given me the 30 days," says Stephens with a laugh. "I can be pretty tenacious."
The two men formed the company right after 9/11. Li gathered a team of engineers and auto manufacturing experts to build the car. And Stephens developed a method for bringing potential customers into the development, creating what he calls the "Carbon Council," a Web (www.carbonmotors.com) community for officers who want to sign up for information on the E7 and give input into what they want in the car.