Carbon Motors has, since 2003, been teasing the nation's law enforcement community with a very impressive and advanced-looking purpose-built police car. And while the car itself is very impressive and seriously making me reconsider my life of petty crime, so far it only seems to exist as one prototype and lots of mockups. Carbon reportedly has thousands of orders from police departments, and in turn they allegedly have over 200,000 six-cylinder diesel engines ordered from BMW. And now they seem to have disappeared.
Carbon hasn't issued any formal statement yet, but here's what we know: as of a few days ago, Carbon has removed all their equipment and painted over the logo of the former Visteon plant in Connersville, IN that they were planning to use to build their police vehicles. This decision seems to have been precipitated by being rejected for a loan from the DOE.
Carbon didn't even leave a goodbye note. According to Connersville's mayor,
"No one has said anything about where they are going or what's going to happen, we just know they came and got their stuff."
So, there's that skipping-out-before-the-landlord-shows-up behavior, which is usually not a good indicator of company health. Neither is your website being down, which Carbon's is, as is their YouTube channel.
Right before all the disappearing, Carbon seemed to have been going through some last-ditch changes to try and improve their fate. They changed focus from not building sleek, advanced police cruisers to not building sleek, advanced paddy wagons. and as recently as last week, they teased a new concept on their website: a robotic police drone vehicle, to fulfill all of our ED-209 fantasies.
An anonymous but reliable Jalopnik source has informed us that "The CEO [William Santana Li] has slipped to Nor Cal. Everybody disappeared and it shut down."
I can't help but feel it's a shame, but it's also not unexpected. Their purpose-built police cars were, frankly, lovely, purposeful designs, and it's great for cops to have direct input into the cars that they both spend vast amounts of time in and can be responsible for saving their lives. Plus, from a driver's perspective, I liked the very distinctive-looking, easy-to-ID-in-the-mirror headlight pattern.
And their timing was both good and bad. The good was that they came along right as the old Queen of Cop Cars, [Crown] Victoria, was about to step down from the throne, leaving a large, unfilled hole. Some police departments were so disenchanted with other offerings that they started stockpiling Crown Vics — I know the LAPD has a multi-year supply socked away.
So the opportunity was there, but, sadly the money apparently wasn't. Budgets were being slashed all over the country, which makes introducing a BMW-powered, custom-bodied fleet car an even worse idea than just the normally bad idea it would be.
If a police department in rural North Carolina wrecks their police car, where are they more likely to find parts, from a car made by the big three with a dealership network established for decades or from a niche manufacturer using German luxury-car mechanicals? It just never made sense.
So, even if so far they don't have the balls to admit it, it looks like Carbon might be dead. Maybe they can put the 638 police agencies who ordered cars directly in touch with BMW, who can just send them the new diesel motors Carbon ordered and stick 'em in the old Crown Vics.