Arresting developments in police cars

chicagotribune.com

Arresting developments in police cars

From AWD to purpose built these new cruisers are suited to the job

By Paul Duchene, Special to Tribune Newspapers

June 24, 2010

 

 

 

Imagine the classic Western "High Noon" in reverse. This time the bad guys are waiting for four new marshals to hit town. The lawmen will have fresh horses and new weapons. If you’re wearing a black hat, you’ll be keeping a nervous eye on the station clock.

But the fresh horses in this flick are police cruisers to be launched in the next year or so. The Chevrolet Caprice PPV (Police Patrol Vehicle) comes from General Motors Australia, and is based on the Zeta platform. Ford’s new Police Interceptor resembles a Taurus on steroids and is the first domestic cruiser to offer all-wheel-drive. The Dodge Charger, the fastest horse in the police stable, is redesigned this fall. And the Carbon E7, a purpose-built patrol car, is due as a 2013 model.

Big changes in a market in which 70 percent of police cruisers are based on Ford’s Crown Victoria. When the Charger arrived in 2007 with a 5.7-liter, 368-horsepower Hemi, it grabbed 18 percent of police business. The remaining 12 percent belongs to Chevy’s Impala and various SUVs such as the Chevy Tahoe.

Overall, the police market totals about 60,000 cars a year, and cruisers sell from about $25,000-$30,000, before special equipment is added, which can cost an additional $10,000-$20,000.

GM bowed out of mainstream police business when Chevy Caprice production in 1996. The Australian Caprice looks like the 2009 Pontiac G8 and shares its rear-wheel-drive platform with the Camaro.

While the new Caprice won’t be sold to the public, some will trickle down to taxi fleets and private customers, says Dana Hammer, GM’s product manager of law-enforcement vehicles. Transferable 5-year, 100,000-mile powertrain warranties would follow cars taken out of service early. "And that adds value," he said.

So do some of the new gadgets: head-up displays; infrared vision; a blind-spot system to "see" nearby cars the driver cannot; and cross-traffic alert to warn of oncoming cars when the vehicle is backing up. New safety parameters call for surviving a 75 mph rear-end collision. The license-plate readers that instantly detect warrants and voice-command lights and sirens, however, won’t trickle down, but will transfer to other patrol cars.

Nothing will trickle from the Carbon E7, to be built in Connorsville, Ind., for police use only.

"I started with a simple question," said former Texas police officer Stacy Stephens, who founded Carbon Motors in 2003 with former Ford executive William Santana Li. "Fire departments have firetrucks. Emergency medical technicians have ambulances. Even mailmen have mail trucks. Yet here you have 800,000 men and women in basic fleet cars with markings. We expect them to drive fast to get to emergencies but their cars aren’t far removed from 50 years ago, when all we had was a bubble-gum light and a radio."

Stephens says the E7 was designed with the electronic police systems integrated, and the BMW diesel engine was chosen for its durability and a 160-mph speed of a 5-Series with that engine.

"You learn in police academy the use of force continuum — the officer always has to match aggression with one level higher," Stephens said. "First level is appearance; you must have a commanding presence — the look of the uniform; cleaned, pressed, buttoned up, tight in appearance. The vehicle needs to command the same authority. I’m here on business; let’s take care of things."

Though it’s not purpose built, the Charger’s basic design has that functionality, said Jiyan Cadiz of Chrysler. It has the column shift, wide cabin and that 368-hp Hemi, which can run on 4 cylinders. And that adaptability goes both ways. "The big brakes on the R/T came directly from police needs," he said.

Ford’s Police Interceptor is a radical departure from the 20-year workhorse it replaces. For one thing, it will offer all-wheel drive, and Lisa Teed, program manager for Ford’s Taurus-based Police Interceptor, expects most to be ordered that way. Front-wheel-drive will be available with a tamer 263-hp V-6.

One thing common to all manufacturers is the need for seats to accommodate officers who’ll be in them 8 1/2 hours a day. The seats in all four police specials are contoured to account for belts, guns, radios and handcuffs.

"GM seat designers took measurements and body scans," said Joyce Mattman, GM director for Commercial Product and Specialty Vehicles. But the police said " ‘Hey, this is comfortable, can we have the same seat for an office chair?’ "

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