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Police car maker picks Indiana city for factory

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A startup company that plans to build high-tech police cars announced Wednesday that it had picked a vacant auto-parts plant in eastern Indiana for its first factory.

A large crowd cheered as Carbon Motors Corp.’s chairman spoke on the factory floor inside the former Visteon plant. It has been a prominent symbol of the economic struggles in the Connersville area, which had a 15.9 percent unemployment rate in June.

The company says it could potentially hire 1,550 workers after spending $350 million to refurbish the 1.8 million-square-foot factory that Visteon shut down in 2007.

Carbon Motors has developed a prototype of its Carbon E7 squad car, which it says is the first vehicle specifically designed for police use. It includes bulletproof door and dash panels, radiation and biological threat detectors, an automatic license plate recognition system and a 3-liter diesel engine the company says can reduce fuel costs by up to 40 percent.

“We’ve got a long road ahead of us,” company chairman and CEO William Santana Li said. “There’s going to be a lot of blood, sweat and tears to make this all happen.”

Gov. Mitch Daniels attended Wednesday’s announcement, but state officials acknowledged several hurdles still facing the project — including complications in buying the plant since Michigan-based Visteon filed for bankruptcy protection in May.

Atlanta-based Carbon Motors also is applying for a loan through the U.S. Department of Energy to help finance production of the squad car.

Such steps were in the background Wednesday as residents in the city about 50 miles east of Indianapolis celebrated a decision that had been eagerly awaited while Carbon Motors considered sites in several states for its factory.

Fayette County, which includes Connersville, has had a jobless rate of at least 9.7 percent since early 2008, soon after Visteon closed the factory that once employed more than 3,000 people making vehicle heating and cooling systems.

“I just lost my job of 18 years,” resident Kim Bowling said. “There’s no jobs anywhere around. We need it.”

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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