GREENVILLE, S.C. – Straight out of a Hollywood movie, the "E7" may be the police car of the future.
"You think about Knight Rider and all these fictional characters," said William Santana Li, chairman and CEO of the Atlanta-based Carbon Motors Corporation. "This car is actually real."
A prototype model of the E7 is on a nine-city U.S. tour, as Carbon Motors executives market the car to law enforcement officials and municipal fleet managers.
Unlike conventional police cruisers, which are retrofitted consumer vehicles such as the Ford Crown Victoria, the E7 is the first car designed and built specifically for law enforcement.
"You would never send a pickup truck to go put out a fire," Li said. "Why would you send a family sedan to go take care of a homeland-security issue?"
Flashing emergency lights are embedded in the E7's frame, making the car aerodynamic and visible from all directions. The front seats are designed with extra space to accommodate a police officer's utility belt.
The rear passenger compartment is completely sealed off from the cockpit. Molded plastic seats in back allow for easy cleaning and prevent prisoners from hiding contraband.
Two front-mounted cameras automatically scan license plates of nearby vehicles and alert police when they find a car flagged as stolen or involved in some other crime. According to developers, the car's onboard equipment can also detect nuclear and biological threats.
Li said the car's 300 bhp forced-induction 3.0-diesel engine will deliver 420 lb-ft of torque and propel the vehicle from zero to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds, with a governed top speed of 155 mph.
He also said the E7's engine, which can run on either ultra-low sulfur diesel or biodiesel, will have a combined fuel economy rating of 28 to 30 mpg — up to 40 percent more fuel efficient than conventional police cruisers.
Carbon Motors has contracted with a European manufacturer to supply the E7's power train, but has yet to publicize the name of that manufacturer. "Our customers will be favorably impressed when we make the announcement," Li added.
At a vehicle demonstration this week in Greenville, S.C., law-enforcement officials and fleet managers were impressed with the powerful features embedded in the vehicle.
"Everything that I have to do to put a police car in service is already done," said Jerry Farmer, the operations superintendent for maintenance with the Newport News, Va. municipal government.
"Most of the cars that we now drive were tested prior to all of the equipment going in and then probably not tested again after that," said Larry Moses, a detective with the police department in Etowah, Tenn. "This car comes equipped and meets national standards."
The leading concern potential customers express is the cost. "Can they compete with Ford? Can they compete with Chevrolet?" Moses said. "Can they compete with those guys and actually put a car out there that makes sense for us because it's competitive in price?"
Li said Carbon Motors will announce pricing in a few months and that it will be competitive with the cost of retail passenger cars retrofitted with police equipment. Depending on the options installed, current police vehicles can cost anywhere from $25,000 to $75,000.
The company is currently in negotiations with several states on where to locate its assembly plant. According to Li, production of the E7 will create 10,000 direct and indirect American jobs.
Law enforcement agencies purchase an estimated 80,000 vehicles per year. Carbon Motors officials project the annual manufacture and sale of 50,000 E7s, with the first models going into service in 2012.