Trevor Rudderham had amassed plenty of experience in product engineering and planning in a large OEM, but a few years ago he found himself attracted to a much smaller start-up with a very clear mission: to create a purpose-built law enforcement patrol car. Carbon Motors is aiming squarely at a sizeable market in North America that is currently dominated by modified retail cars such as Ford's Crown Victoria. As Carbon Motors' VP and Chief Development Officer, Trevor Rudderham is excited by the opportunity ahead in a niche that he believes has been poorly served. just-auto's Editor Dave Leggett interviewed him on behalf of the Lotus Engineering magazine proActive where this article first appeared.

DL: Where did the business idea for a purpose-built police car come from? What's the history?

TR: It was really a confluence of several events. Our Chairman and CEO William (Bill) Santana Li is someone I had known and respected at Ford for a number of years. He was being groomed to get to a very high level within Ford Motor, but much to the surprise of a lot of us he quit Ford at the end of 1999 and was lured out to California by a large venture capital group who wanted to do an automotive play - fashionable at the time. Bill was working on a number of business models in the automotive arena.

The idea of a build-to-direct-order automotive company came up, similar to the Dell computer model.

In early 2003 Bill took a phone call from a gentleman called Stacy Stephens who was a law enforcement officer in Dallas. And Stacy raised the issue of doing a purpose-built law enforcement vehicle. Bill's response was 'very interesting and thanks for your call, but Ford's got that market wrapped up and there's not much opportunity there'. But Stacy persisted and went through all the challenges, issues and problems that law enforcement has in the US with what are basically retail passenger cars up-fitted for police usage.

And Bill was intrigued but not really sold on the idea at that point. Stacy is a tenacious character and kept coming back, stressing the size of the opportunity and the need for a purpose-built vehicle for law enforcement officers - which the Detroit Three appeared to have no interest in supplying. Stacy said 'your business model would be suited to this'.

Bill then said he'd do a 30-day feasibility study into it. Those 30 days become 60, became 90 and several years later, here we are.

The crux of it was that every place that Bill looked, in terms of the whole process of designing, engineering, building, selling, servicing, operating and decommissioning law enforcement vehicles in the US, it was evident that it was an incredibly ineffective and inefficient process which doesn't deliver - either for the law enforcement officers using the vehicles or the agencies running the vehicle fleets.

So, Bill decided that there was something in this. He called me up, we looked at the outline of a business plan and I thought it looked great, a really interesting concept. And that was really the genesis of it. Stacy left his job and went to California to join Bill and I left Ford shortly after that and that's when it took off.

DL: Can you summarise the main advantages that your purpose-built E7 patrol car has over the typical retail passenger car modified for police use? And what's the difference in price for the customer?

TR: We're targeting an overall lower cost of ownership.

Let's put some perspective on this. There are 19,000 agencies in the US that buy law enforcement vehicles; it's local police, the sheriff, state patrols, the FBI, the CIA, port authorities and so on - a big list. There's no federal body that provides oversight or coordinates to give advice, recommendations and write specifications or anything like that. All 19,000 agencies are on their own.

The smaller ones in particular have to go to a dealership - be it a Ford, Dodge or Chevrolet dealer - and negotiate a price on what is essentially a retail passenger car. In fairness, there are changes to the vehicles, things the Detroit Three leave off or modifications on springs and dampers and so on, but it's basically a retail passenger car with some minor changes.

And they pay between $21,000 and $24,000 for that depending on how many they buy and what deal they can do with the dealership.

They then add to that anything between $5,000 and $55,000 worth of aftermarket equipment - things like radios, sirens, lights, computers and the like.. They are installed via their own service facilities or they use a local garage down the street - who may have a relatively inexperienced mechanic who does some disassembly on a vehicle they take delivery of, they'll then install the law enforcement equipment, paint it, put the graphics on the vehicle - police logos - and that whole process takes a lot of time and is inefficient given that it happens after the vehicle has been assembled.

The law enforcement agency then operates the vehicle and gets typically 8 -14mpg (US). For example the Crown Vic has a somewhat dated 4.6-litre V8 engine and is at the lower end of that range. We're talking high fuel costs and poor fuel economy.

And at the end of their life, the vehicles then have to be decommissioned, which entails taking all of the police equipment out of the car, removing all graphics and in some cases repainting the vehicle - and then they are sold at auction.

Sometimes that's all done by a law enforcement officer as a sideline and he'd otherwise be out on patrol.

What we're offering is a turnkey solution. We will deliver the vehicle completely ready to go out on patrol, all the law enforcement equipment pre-installed in the vehicle, all the exterior graphics done - all the customer has to do is hit the start button and go out on patrol.

There will be a diesel engine which gives a much lower operating cost on fuel and then at the end of service, rather than decommission we will take the vehicle back and then we will do one of three things: 1) "re-certify" the used vehicle and broker the onward sale of that vehicle to a third party - maybe a park security firm or University campus, something like that where they don't have a need for brand new vehicles or 2) dismantle the vehicle and re-use the parts for maintenance and service or 3) recycle the vehicle ourselves.

We are very confident that we will end up with a total life cost for the agencies that is significantly below what they are incur today.

DL: One thing puzzles me - why haven't the existing players in this market gone down this purpose-built police car road? They have the resources don't they?

TR: One of the big challenges with the state of the US domestic car industry is that they are in a situation in which their resources are at an absolute premium. They are having to cut cost wherever they can; there are legacy issues with UAW deals, dealer distribution agreements, restructuring plans, plants that need to be made more efficient and so on. They are very, very constrained.

There's huge competition in these firms, internally, for resource. Naturally, high margin product gets the resource and the priority. Or there are products that address CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) and get priority. In these circumstances, the main call on resources is for high volume product that fills existing plants and in areas where they can be profitable. Devoting engineering resource to figuring out how to, say, mount a radar gun on a law enforcement vehicle - which has a relatively low volume and has no relevance to any other company vehicle -- is of little interest.

DL: From the point of view of the law enforcement guy at the sharp-end, what are the main benefits in the E7 versus today's patrol cars?

TR: The two big areas from the officer's standpoint are operational effectiveness and safety.

One of the first things you will notice is that because today's patrol cars are up-fitted in the aftermarket, the installation of the equipment - laptop computers, controls for the lights and the sirens, spotlights will be mounted on the A-pillars (a big mechanical handle extending into the car) - it's all very compromised because there's a limit to how much you can change the base vehicle. And that base vehicle has been built for the retail passenger vehicle customer, not for law enforcement.

The consequence of that is that things end up mounted in places that are just compromise safety. The handle controlling the spotlight mounted on the A-pillar is a good example. If these vehicles had to meet federal safety standards applying to regular passenger vehicles, they would never pass. In the US, unlike in Germany for example, once you have bought the vehicle, you can do what you like to it. These are extremely compromised vehicles, in terms of ergonomics and human-machine interface. In many cases the way the equipment is mounted can actually constitute a threat to the officer.

Because we are designing specifically for purpose we can integrate all the law enforcement equipment in a manner that is optimising human-machine interfaces with control panels where they should be, docking keyboards mounted on the centre console, a different solution to the lighting and so on. It's a much safer environment for the officer to operate in. It's also much more effective and efficient.

We can display information better - say an officer is following a suspect down a freeway and they want to check their plates, today he may have to consult a laptop to his side as he drives, but we can bring up the results on a head-up display (HUD) so he doesn't have to take his eyes off the road.

If I can just add one other thing. One of the most challenging things that police officers have to deal with is putting a suspect in the back of a vehicle. Policing in the US is a little bit different to that in Europe in the sense that an officer here on patrol may be fifty or a hundred miles away from his base and cannot simply wait for a dedicated police van to turn up and take the suspect away. Patrol vehicles are used very frequently for suspect transport. Of course, they have a partition between front and rear, plastic seats in the rear and so on, but the actual act of trying to put a suspect in the vehicle is very difficult and very dangerous. The suspect might be a drug addict, or very drunk, or violent…imagine trying to get a 250lb guy who's not happy and is being very aggressive onto the back seat. Not easy.

One of the things we have looked into is the whole ergonomic situation here and we've mimicked the London taxi with a rear-hinged or coach rear door. The biomechanics of inserting a suspect into the rear is very different with a coach door. There's a 90-degree door swing for a very large aperture and that means you can face the suspect and push them back onto the seat, rather than trying to manoeuvre them around the door. It might sound like a small thing, but for an officer - and there are plenty around of who have been injured or spat upon or bitten in such situations - that's a really big advantage.

So, operating the vehicle in the front compartment will be much safer and so will safety in the rear.

DL: How big is the police car market you are looking at? And is it just North America?

TR: The market in the US is 75,000 new law enforcement vehicles sold a year. There are approximately 425,000 law enforcement vehicles on the roads. Initially we will target the US and shortly after that we will also target Canada and Mexico - both markets that like the US, use Detroit Three products currently.

We have had a lot of unsolicited interest from around the globe - Russia, China, the Middle East, South Africa, Australia, several police forces in the UK. We're going to look at that as a longer-term opportunity. The vehicle we are doing for the US is large and may be too wide for European roads. There would also have to be some product changes for overseas markets' needs.

DL: So what are your eventual build volume ideas?

TR: Let me just say that today the Crown Victoria achieves an 80% share of this market in the US. If you look back over history at this market niche, whichever vehicle comes closest to meeting the market's needs at a given point in time tends to dominate the market. This is a tool for law enforcement, not a fashion product - it's a functional piece of equipment and the buyers tend to go for the best product that meets their needs.

GM used to have a very large slice of the market with the Chevrolet Caprice - a large vehicle with a high-performance Corvette engine. GM took that off the market and at that point Ford was able to offer a product closest to market needs and its share took off.

Our business plan doesn't jump straight in at that sort of market share but we believe in the long run we should be getting to a pretty significant share. We think we will be the dominant player from a product standpoint.

DL: When might E7 production actually start and where?

TR: It will be built in the US. Our customers, not surprisingly, are very patriotic and this has to be an American built car. A question we get asked is 'why don't you build this in China or India and get low cost?' Well, our customers want a homegrown, home-built vehicle. We are located in Atlanta, Georgia and are actively looking for a manufacturing facility in the Georgia area.

DL: Definitely in Georgia then?

TR: I wouldn't say definitely, but right now that is the highest probability.  As you imagine with a $3 billion positive economic impact and 10,000 new direct and indirect jobs, a number of the US States are starting to try to change our minds.

DL: And when?

TR: As with any start-up, timing is contingent on raising the necessary finance. We are in the process of building a concept demonstration vehicle and that will be launched in the fourth quarter of this year and we'll transition from that to the main engineering programme. We're targeting 36 months from the start of the main programme to the start of production.

DL: Who are your main technology partners?

TR: Due to confidentiality agreements we have in place, I am a little limited in what I can say. We are sourcing the powertrain from Europe - the centre of excellence on diesel engine development - and we do have an agreement with a European manufacturer for the supply of engines and transmissions for our vehicle.

Our biggest partner on the vehicle development side is Lotus Engineering and that is our major technology partner.

We are working on agreements with a number of other people. We have received a lot of assistance from BASF.

The structure of the E7 vehicle is aluminium space-frame with plastic exterior panels and that was one of the reasons why we picked Lotus to do the engineering work for us.

BASF has been very helpful on the exterior panels and we have a number of relationships that are developing and anticipate a number of joint announcements in the future.

And a company called Tomar - a supplier of emergency lighting products - is working closely with us. They will be our partner on the emergency lighting for the vehicle and they are a leading innovator in the use of LEDs for emergency vehicle lighting applications.

Last, but by no means least, we have a very close relationship with Georgia Institute of Technology who we are working with on a number of research projects on several important areas of the car.

DL: How does the 'Carbon Council' work?

TR: It's open to any active or retired law enforcement officer or anyone else involved in the procurement, servicing or any other aspect of law enforcement vehicles so that they can come to our website, sign up to the Carbon Council and they can raise issues, questions. What we also do is post ideas on the forum so that we can get feedback. For example, we might invite views on where best to locate a laser speed detection device and we can present sketches of options. And a dialogue will follow.

I think we have 1,200 active members of the Carbon Council now, representing something of the order of 700-800 law enforcement agencies across the country. All 50 US States are represented.  That tells you a bit about the enthusiasm and demand for the product.

DL: For you personally how has the experience been working in a small start-up development company compared with life in a major OEM?

TR: I guess if I had to sum it up in one word I would use the word 'liberated'. It's very, very different.

We are a very small team, our decision-making is very quick, we're very empowered and obviously that contrasts with a large corporation - any corporation in any industry. In any large corporation decisions tend to be slow and made by committee or at least made by a group of people. That can be a good thing at times, but it can also be a bad thing.

One of the big advantages we have is that we are very nimble.

We will live and die on the decisions we make and there's no safety net the way there can be in bigger organisations. We make decisions quickly and move on. And our small team is leveraging the expertise of the partners we are working with. It's lean but efficient.

One of the great advantages of doing this as a start-up is that we don't have the set-up the big automotive firms have with legacy plants and commitments to the workforce and things like that. Even if they know what the right thing to do on a project is, it's not always easy to execute because of the constraints.

When you start with a clean sheet of paper you can pretty much be your own architect and chart the course you want to take.

DL: Just stepping back from Carbon Motors for a second, what do you see as the big challenges ahead for the US auto industry?

TR: I certainly think different global regions face different challenges - some of them shared some of them not.

I think the energy crisis is going to be a very interesting challenge for the US auto industry. Obviously right now there's the emergence of financial problems in the economy and what that is doing to drive down customer demand.

But I think what the industry faces in terms of rapidly rising energy costs presents a bigger, on-going challenge. How do you satisfy the customer in a market that is very accustomed to having large, spacious vehicles and not having to worry unduly about the costs of operating those vehicles? Gas was a dollar a gallon six or seven years ago and nobody cared about miles per gallon.

Now there's a difficult trade for the customer to make. The companies that can continue to deliver the functionality that US customers have become acclimatised to, but in a way that is more affordable and environmentally conscious - those are the companies who will ultimately be the winners.

There is lots of talk of getting people out of SUVs and trucks and into cars and I think that some of the people who chose SUVs as fashion statements rather than on a need basis will move away from them and that will be a continuing trend. But the nature of the US - the size of the country and the kinds of leisure interests people have - means there are a lot of people out there who need trucks and SUVs.

Tightening Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) restrictions mean that manufacturers are under pressure on their product line-ups to deliver CAFÉ but in many cases the customer doesn't want to get out of the product they have got. Customers will want to keep the product functionality while also driving down fuel costs. That presents a very big challenge to vehicle makers in this market.

This article first appeared in Issue 26 of the Lotus Engineering magazine proActive


Trevor J Rudderham

Trevor has over 28 years of international automotive experience. He started his career in the UK with Jaguar before moving to Ford in 1980. Since then he has worked for Ford in the UK, Germany and the USA in a variety of engineering, business, strategy and product planning positions. Trevor's key strength is enormous breadth of product, geographic and cultural experience within the industry gained from doing business in all the major automotive markets in the world.

Most recently, Trevor was Director of Product Planning for all North American small vehicles with responsibility for planning in excess of $1 billion dollars of annual product investment for a diverse range of vehicle lines with annual revenue of over $18 billion within the Ford, Lincoln and Mercury portfolios. Prior to this, he had responsibility for managing Ford's joint-venture with International/Navistar to produce Class 5-7 commercial trucks - a product range that is now achieving record sales. Trevor also was Chief Engineer for the Ford Freestyle, Ford Five Hundred and Mercury Montego product range, with a total of $1.5 billion of investment and annual revenue of $3 billion. This included responsibility for leveraging synergies with Volvo through use of a shared platform, technologies and supply base.

Trevor J Rudderham, vice president and chief development officer

In addition to extensive and varied vehicle experience, Trevor also has a background in powertrain engineering, including responsibility for development of the Zetec SE engine in Europe, a world leading product acknowledged as the benchmark in its segment. He has also maintained positive business and technical relations with Yamaha Motor.

Trevor gained a First Class Honors Degree in Automotive Engineering from Loughborough University in England, graduating first in his class and receiving the Institute of Mechanical Engineers prize for outstanding final year work in addition to post-graduate studies at the INSEAD Business School in France.