Horseless eCarriage with the team from Creative Workshop

The Horseless eCarriage, with builder Jason Wenig in the driver's seat. If all goes well, a fleet of them could replace carriage horses in New York.(Photo: The Creative Workshop)

New York City has 68 carriages and between 300 and 400 operators plying the district around Central Park. They may look like a tranquil reminder of a slower-paced era, but in fact they’re at the center of a swirling modern controversy.

Given the pollution and congestion, are carriage horses getting a raw deal, and should they be replaced by vintage-looking electric cars?

dashboard of horseless eCarriage

A massive “Horseless eCarriage” was shown off at the New York Auto Show last week, and even drove around the floor a bit — since it’s a tailpipe-free battery car. It’s a $450,000 prototype of a vehicle, with a range of 100 miles and a 30 mph top speed, which could cost $150,000 or so if it went into production.

Meanwhile, animal rights pickets were protesting in front of actor Liam Neeson’s apartment building, because he said the carriage horse industry (which employs a lot of his fellow Irishmen) is “humane” and “well regulated.” And Steve Nislick, the parking lot magnate (an ex-CEO of big player Edison) has become a major supporter of Mayor Bill DeBlasio, at least in part because of his vocal support for banning carriage horses.

Interior of horseless carriage

Nislick’s money is widely credited with helping bring down Christine Quinn, the Irish former city council president who lost to DeBlasio. Nislick, saying he was moved by the plight of carriage horses near his Manhattan apartment, founded New Yorkers for Clean, Livable and Safe Streets (NYCLASS), which has quickly elbowed its way into New York City politics. The 70-year-old Nislick doesn’t avoid controversy — at the unveiling of the Horseless eCarriage, he reportedly threatened to punch out a Daily News photographer.  

Wheel of horseless carriage

The EV was created by Florida-based auto restorer and designer Jason Wenig of The Creative Workshop. It weighs 7,500 pounds fully laden, carries eight, and is designed for slow cruising (30 mph tops) through the park. There’s an AC motor with 84 horsepower, and a 46-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion polymer battery pack with Chinese-made Sinopoly cells.  

Wenig says the eCarriage doesn’t model any one Brass Era (1900 to 1910) car, but, he said, “We looked at Pierce Arrow, Rolls-Royce, Maxwell and Locomobile. The nose is Rolls, the body Pierce, and the fenders Maxwell and Locomobile. We wanted something regal, majestic and bold.” It is that, sized like those brass veterans and also weighing about the same as contemporary nine-passenger Excursions and Tahoes.

Horseless carriage

DeBlasio has an uphill fight. The opposition to his plan is as vocal as the supporters, and 64 percent of New Yorkers wanted to keep the horses in a recent Quinnipiac poll. But if the eCarriages are approved Wenig, a native New Yorker, says he’ll work to create a factory somewhere in the five boroughs. There’s some precedent for that, since Smith Electric Vehicles announced an electric truck facility in the Bronx with great fanfare. That plan is now on hold. If the city is lucky, it can grab some of the available and quite lucrative subsidies for electric trucks.

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Jim Motavalli ( @jmotavalli ) writes about cars, technology and the environmental world to anyone curious enough to ask.

Are vintage EVs the answer to New York's carriage horse controversy?
Will a vintage-type electric car replace carriage horses in new york?