Detroit was a tough act to follow, but the last couple stops on his five-week road trip offered a few more vignettes into the breadth of American design in 2012. Dave shares the stories of his new friends in Greater Indianapolis and Pittsburgh in this final chapter of the travelogue.
Although I was pretty much exhausted coming out of Detroit, I decided to make a detour to Indiana to check out Carbon Motors. The automotive company's prototype police car is a thing of sheer beauty. Given my background in law enforcement, I completely support a company putting the officer first in the design process. However, in everything I've read about Carbon Motors, I've yet to hear the origin story. So I went straight to the source: co-founder and Chief Brand Officer Stacy Dean Stephens.
Carbon Motors co-founder Stacy Dean Stephens
Stephens actually went to school for aerospace engineering before spending nine years working in finance. A friend in the Dallas, TX, Police Department once offered Stephens the chance to do a ride-along, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Soon after, Stephens quit his job and headed to the police academy, graduated valedictorian, and joined the Coppell, TX, Police Department. Stephens's previous experience in business and marketing proved to be a benefit and allowed him to "speak to people on a different level."
Around the same time Stephens started working, the leading cause in police officer deaths in the United States was car-related fatalities. Allegedly a rear impact to the Crown Victoria caused the fuel tank to explode. The International Association of Chiefs of Police met with three of the largest auto manufacturers to discuss the issue but were met with the party line, "We don't build purpose-built. You add on other stuff, it's not our fault."
Suicide doors? I'm sold!
This did not sit well with Stephens and spawned the initial idea for Carbon Motors. "When Chevy shut down the Caprice factory in Arlington, TX," thought Stephens, "why not convert it to a police car factory?" Stephens joined forces with Bill Santana Li (now CEO of Carbon Motors), who had spent nearly a decade with Ford. "If you talk to anyone on the automotive side, they'll say building a car is easy," said Stephens. "If you ask me, the cop—yeah, it's a big undertaking!"
Stephens described Carbon Motors as "more closely resembling a defense contractor than an automaker" in terms of the technology the company brings to the police department market. In some cases, the options for the E7 (the current prototype) include military-grade technology. "We're a platform upon which technology companies can place their wares and get into these agencies," said Stephens. With a market size of more than 19,000 police departments, 500,000 cruisers on the street, and "no single point of contact," Carbon Motors gives police officers the chance to help shape the law enforcement technology industry by giving them a manufacturer that builds products based on real, not just perceived, needs. Stephens formed the Carbon Council as a user group to guide the design of the E7 and intends to expand the group to better inform further iterations.
The interior is molded to fit the gear of the modern-day police officer
Moreover, Carbon Motors is designing their police cruiser to reduce the amount of actual assembly that will eventually need to be done. Stephens described "four major buckets" in the assembly line that his company is seeking to do almost entirely away with. The metal shop is not needed because the body of the cruiser is made from molded plastic; the complex body shop is not needed because the body of the cruiser is made from tens of parts, not hundreds; and the paint shop is not needed because a film is mixed in with the plastic, producing colored parts. Only the final assembly and trim area is required, thus greatly reducing the amount of space needed to manufacture the E7.
Air scoops on the rear of the E7 passively suck in air and test it with radiological devices
With about thirty-six months left before Carbon Motors begins production of the E7, Stephens is busy taking reservations from police departments for delivery of the cruiser. The company has yet to release any pricing information, but Stephens promises that the final price will be "competitive." Current police cruisers run between $40,000 to $60,000, including the add-on packages for lights, the interior, and decals. In addition to battling competitors on the price, Stephens seeks to "cut 40% off of the fuel consumption, increase the lifespan, and eliminate the sourcing headache." In essence, Carbon Motors may one day become the "one stop shop" for all things police.
The E7 and me
I also received a very nice invitation from Richard Swartz, aka Lucky the Painproof Man, to come check out his workplace at Inventionland. Now, I'm honestly not sure what I'm allowed to talk about given the NDA I signed, but let's just say Inventionland is "Quirky from hell" and I'll leave it at that.
However, Lucky was one of the nicest guys I've met on this trip and extremely knowledgeable about Pittsburgh, his hometown. In his free time, Lucky moonlights as The World's Greatest Sideshow Performer, walking on glass shards and sewing buttons to his chest. After lunch, Lucky gave me a private performance, which you can see in the video.
WARNING: He hammers a nail into his face with a bottle of alcohol. Don't try this at home.
Route77: Dave Seliger Embarks on the Great American Roadtrip