Carbon E7: Purpose Built to The Hilt

Hard to refute an idea whose time has come, and the E7 is more than that, it's an idea that's overdue. It's a rather small niche market, neglected by other automakers over the years because the lower volumes didn't allow for much profit.

carbon e7 overhead

photo from Carbon Motors

by Ross Bonander


  • Type: Purpose-built vehicle
  • Manufacturer: Carbon Motors
  • Propulsion system: Forced induction 3.0 diesel engine, 300 hp / 420 lb-ft of torque
  • Top Speed: 155 mph (250 km/h)
  • Zero-to-60: 6.5 seconds
  • Fuel(s): Diesel, biodiesel
  • Fuel efficiency: 28-30 mpg
  • Fuel tank capacity: 18 gallons
  • Tailpipe emissions: Yes
  • Price: TBA
  • Availability: 2012

The manufacturer says

"The E7 [is] the world’s first purpose-built law enforcement patrol vehicle, designed by law enforcement, for law enforcement."


All the attitude of a Dirty Harry-Robocop hybrid with none of the wise cracks, the Carbon E7 is a landmark in the history law enforcement: a purpose-built patrol car designed to meet the needs of police and sheriffs departments, port authorities, homeland security agencies and other first responders in the field like never before.

Stephens tells me they [the WMD detectors] were requested specifically from members of the 9/11 Commission, including Lee Hamilton

Atlanta-based Carbon Motors was launched in 2003 when Stacy Dean Stephens, a former cop with a sales and marketing background, got in contact with William Santana Li, a longtime Ford executive who was running the on-demand car company Build-To-Order Incorporated (BTO). Stephens told me the idea of a purpose-built patrol car had been on his mind for a while; finally he sent a blind email to Li pitching the idea. Little surprise it caught fire, and the E7 is scheduled to go into production in 2012.

Carbon Motors is currently in the middle of taking the E7 across the US. The so-called Pure Justice Tour began in Chicago in October 2008 and features 29 city stops, ending in Denver in October 2009.

The response they're getting are beyond what Stephens or anyone else could have imagined. Communities are falling over one another to land Carbon's manufacturing facility (they hope to make a decision where to lay down roots this summer), many of the nation's 19,000 law enforcement agencies are gaga over the vehicle, and at least 30 countries worldwide are interested in the E7.

Options on the E7

So what's fueling the excitement? For starters, there has never been a purpose-built, dedicated patrol vehicle available to law enforcement agencies, if you can believe it. Carbon is cutting a new path here, and they're doing it the right way—by listening to what their future customers want most in their E7.

carbon e7 guns

For instance, Carbon is offering around 70 or so customizable options for the E7, and it's here where the vehicle really shines. Some standouts:

  • Bullet-resistant ballistic panels
  • 360-degree exterior video and audio monitoring
  • Video and audio monitoring of rear passenger compartment
  • Proprietary On-board Rapid Command Architecture™ (ORCA™)
  • Automatic license plate recognition (ALPR) system
  • Head–up display (HUD) allows the driver to read computer information displayed directly in front of him so he doesn’t have to take his eyes off the road.

Finally there are three WMD detectors—threat sensors capable of detecting radiation, or the chemical or biological signatures of a weapon of mass destruction (WMD). My initial feeling was that these were unnecessary; that I could mount a reasonable argument that all these really did was pander to a simmering national megaphobia over dirty bombs and 'suitcase nukes'.

However, Stephens tells me they were requested specifically from members of the 9/11 Commission, including Lee Hamilton (a member of Carbon's Advisory Board). The idea being not so much to equip E7s going to city police; rather, to equip frontline first-responders, such as the vehicles operated by port authorities.

What we like

The suicide doors. Also found in the Rolls Royce Phantom (where they offer "an added sense of occasion" during entry and exit), suicide doors, or coach doors, on a patrol car are clever, although Carbon doesn't regard them in quite the same grand fashion as Rolls Royce (designed for "safer suspect ingress and egress").

The rhetorical device. Evoking Tom Joad in The Grapes of Wrath ("Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there"), Carbon utilizes epistrophe to stress the company's focus:

"For the officer on the south side of Chicago who was injured because of a poorly equipped squad car, it matters to us... For the fleet administrator in Georgia frustrated because it takes 9 months to get a police car out on patrol, it matters to us... For the federal agent in DC that could not communicate with other officers during a crisis in Louisiana as a city drowned, it matters to us."

The Carbon Council. This online users' group, open to government and law enforcement professionals, provides the Carbon team with input, feedback and suggestions to improve the E7. The suicide doors are there thanks to the Council.

The design. Of course. What's not to like? This isn't your father's modified Crown Vic; it's an intimidating vehicle capable of conveying safety, authority and professionalism.

What we don’t

The hoseability. The E7, designed by cops, for cops, suggests that every feature is a product of experience, and not something more cynical. How then to deal with a back seat compartment that's 'hoseable'? What kind of civil rights nightmares go on back there anyway?

carbon e7 interior

In truth, the bottom line is that the E7 features little to dislike. It's a remarkable vehicle that will absolutely lock itself into a niche market, and that already has customers wildly anxious to get their hands on it.


Hard to refute an idea whose time has come, and the E7 is more than that, it's an idea that's overdue. So where has this idea been for the past 100 years? It's a rather small niche market, neglected by other automakers over the years because the lower volumes didn't allow for much profit.

As I told Stephens, the story of how the E7 came about–a phone call from a guy with a good idea to another guy with the means to implement it–is one that simply would not have been possible at virtually any other time in American automotive history, as the big car companies did their level best to squash the little guy. They're on the ropes now; they no longer have the industry in a choke-hold. Competitive markets are opening up, we're seeing it in a slew of alternative start-ups hoping to gain a foothold.

Carbon is one of them, but they've got something many of the others don't—an astonishingly simple idea with brilliantly practical applications and a ready-made US market that buys over 450,000 new vehicles each year.

If there's such a thing in this industry as a sure thing, the E7 is it. If you don't believe me, ask any cop what they think of the E7, or read about what these communities are doing to get Carbon's attention, or look at the people on Carbon's Advisory Board, men of extraordinary influence with US law enforcement and homeland security agencies.

Seriously, the E7 is as close as it gets to a sure thing.

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