Police vehicles have always been based on civilian products but have become much more specialized over the years.
Photo JP Molnar
FEATURED IN VEHICLE OPS
Recently, I received an odd piece of mail. Tucked inside a plain-looking envelope, with a return address on the East Coast, was a multi-page document announcing bankruptcy court proceedings, including the requisite defendants. Because this economy has made bankruptcies about as common as buying groceries, I’d have ordinarily just thrown it in the “junk mail” receptacle. However, the defendant’s name caught my eye: General Motors.
The patrol vehicle marketplace in the U.S. has always worked hand in hand with The Big Three to develop products suited for police work. Often, these patrol vehicles are derivatives of production vehicles normally sold to the general public. Although the actual number of police vehicles produced is fairly low in comparison to all of the vehicles sold in the U.S., there’s a lot of pride associated with being the manufacturer with the most police presence on our streets.
Over time, the demands of police vehicle design have increased due to the inclusion of numerous electronic devices, such as computers, radar, in-car video, LoJack and other systems that place a heavier burden on the vehicle’s electrical system and take up space. Agencies have also stepped up their demands for vehicles that are reliable, supremely efficient and, at the same time, powerful and large enough to carry a lot of gear. Manufacturers have responded by creating more model variants of existing line-ups (e.g., the Chevrolet Tahoe PPV). But the fact remains that emerging technologies in the consumer marketplace drive future patrol design.
A Look Back
American car companies have historically produced the largest cars in the world, with huge V-8 engines, massive trunks, big back seats and lots of sheet metal. They were perfect for police duty for all of those reasons, and many variants of Chrysler, Ford and GM production sedans were slathered in black and white paint and adorned with a red “gumball” on top. Some agencies experimented with other makes and models in a quest for better fuel efficiency and reliability.
For example, the San Diego Police Department experimented with the Ford Taurus and Volvo 240 Sedan in the early 1990s as possible replacements for the Crown Victoria. Subaru offered a police package for many years for its Legacy, and Kitsap County, Wash., has used a turbo 4-x-4 Subaru Legacy sedan for traffic enforcement since 2006. Many other examples exist, and one can certainly look “across the pond” to see many types of police vehicles in use, from Volvos to BMWs to Lamborghinis. Although specialized traffic and other enforcement arms of U.S. agencies use all kinds of one-off vehicles, most agencies still rely on the Crown Victoria, Impala, Charger and Tahoe for the mainstay patrol duties. But with GM undergoing restructuring, the Crown Victoria well past its prime and Chrysler facing the same dilemmas as GM, what are the technologies, vehicles and options for the future?
If you recall from our November issue, GM is introducing the new Caprice PPV for 2011 patrol use. Designed in Australian, the sedan features prodigious horsepower, plus variable cylinder technology for better fuel economy. While I own the civilian version (sold here in 2008–09 as the Pontiac G8 GT), it will be interesting to see how many agencies choose it when it becomes available. So far, LAPD is testing one.
If you’ve been following Law Officer for the past few years, you’ve likely read about an upstart company called Carbon Motors. So far, it has made significant progress using focus groups of officers around the U.S. to incorporate their wants and desires in an ideal patrol vehicle. Carbon has also listened to the group that really makes the decisions, the fleet managers and keepers of the purse strings, by incorporating a fuel-efficient diesel power train and standardizing the equipment offering. So far, the company has produced an operational prototype, acquired a production facility in Indiana, filed for more than $300 million in federal loans, and has more than 10,000 orders on the books. The first Carbon E7s are slated to come off the production line in 2012.
The Carbon E7 is designed by cops for cops. It simplifies the process of outfitting the cars since the cars come factory-equipped. It integrates the technology in a manner that provides more room, and is safer for officers in the event of a collision. In fact, the Carbon Motors E7 has revolutionized the concept of what a police car should be. It’s going to be produced right here in the USA, and it provides a no-excuses platform for police work that doesn’t have to give concessions to its civilian cousins. If Detroit isn’t worried about the E7, it should be.
The Future Is Green
The automotive landscape has been turned on its ear in recent years by the introduction of green technologies. The Big Three have responded with the integration of hybrid electric technologies in several model line-ups, but they have yet to place it in their police packages. The 2010 Chevy Tahoe PPV is now considered to be “flexfuel” E85 ethanol capable, but producing ethanol is expensive, and gas mileage is known to suffer. GM also offers a hybrid system in the Malibu, but not the Impala. The Chevrolet Silverado and GMC Sierra pickups feature hybrids too.
Ford has its work cut out for it. As much as the Crown Victoria has defined the look of the modern police vehicle by owning about 80% of the market, it’s well past its prime. Although it’s inoffensive to drive, durable and provides a large back seat and huge trunk, it’s also slow, thirsty and has chassis dynamics consistent with a nearly 30-year-old design. Ford has done its best to keep the ol’ gal alive and kicking by bumping the horsepower up to 250 for 2009, but drive a newer Impala or Magnum Charger and the difference is clear. Unfortunately, Ford doesn’t really have a clear answer to replacing the Crown Victoria, other than some whispers about the new Taurus being developed into a patrol vehicle platform. The new Taurus offers several engine options that offer more power and economy than the present Crown Vic, but none include the excellent hybrid system found in the Fusion model line-up, which Ford doesn’t currently offer in a police package.
Dodge and Chrysler really don’t have a lot going on in the hybrid department. The hybrid version of the Durango has been discontinued. There are some rumors of a hybrid Ram pickup in 2010, but nothing concrete.
The Big Three are missing the boat in terms of integrating their hybrid technologies into police packages. The NYPD and Salt Lake City Police Department have integrated Nissan and Toyota products into their line-ups. So far, those agencies have been pleased with the results.
Trucks & Wagons
In the U.S., police work presents nearly every geographic and climate condition imaginable. Because of this, there will always be a patrol demand for 4-x-4 trucks and SUVs in regions that regularly see inclement weather. Due to the sheer size of SUVs, such as the Tahoe PPV and Expedition will also remain appealing. More recently, station wagons, such as the Dodge Magnum, have been integrated into fleets for traffic enforcement and K-9 duties. Overseas, Volvo wagons are regularly used for similar duties.
Another recent trend is integrating four-door pickups into patrol fleets. In the past, even full-size, four-door pick-ups had poor rear seating capacity that made it almost impossible to place a cage and a prisoner in the back seat. But the latest iterations from Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge have rear seating areas on par with the front occupant area.
Although pickups possess average power and often large turning radiuses, they can carry a tremendous amount of gear and retain a four-seat configuration.
Technology trends often repeat themselves. The very first police vehicle placed in service was an electric wagon that was operated in Akron, Ohio, in 1899. It could travel up to 30 miles on a single charge and had a top speed of 16 mph. Fast forward 110 years, and new technologies are integrating electricity back into the propulsion equation. New startups are reinventing our idea of the police vehicle, and grizzled veterans offer us a bit of the old and reworked versions of the new. As we look forward, we know there will always be crime and criminals who we’ll arrest—and that we’ll need a way to take them to jail. It’s good to see we’ll continue to have plenty of vehicle options to make that happen.