Police are buying ‘deceptively fast’ utility vehicles to bolster their fleets
Police departments are not immune to the utility-vehicle wave that has engulfed retail auto sales, and for the same reasons.
The trend is evident in both Canadian and U.S. police services, where tall wagons such as the Chevrolet Tahoe and Ford Explorer with pursuit-rated police packages nearly equal, and in some cases exceed, their sedan counterparts such as the Dodge Charger and Ford Taurus.
Sedans likely will remain the vehicle of choice for patrolling built-up urban areas, but for suburbs and rural areas, SUVs are becoming the norm.
“We’re all dealing with the same issue, and that is the vehicles are getting smaller, yet there’s still demand for more gadgets and equipment put into those cars,” Julie Furlotte, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's national mobile assets manager, said in an interview. “It’s always a bit of a tradeoff and a challenge to make it all fit.”
The RCMP operates a formidable law enforcement fleet. It buys between 1,800 and 2,000 vehicles a year; its current fleet has 1,200-1,300 police-package sedans and 1,600 utility vehicles. Officers, like civilian drivers, like the bigger vehicles’ higher-up seating position and ease of entry and exit.
Small car constraints
“The larger the guy, the harder it is to get into a smaller car,” said Sgt. Michael McCarthy of the Michigan State Police (MSP) precision-driving team, whose annual evaluation of pursuit-rated vehicles is considered the reference standard for police fleet purchases.
“The SUVs are up higher, they’re easier to get in and out of. I love driving the sedans as long as I can stay in them but if I have to get in and out of them all day I much prefer a taller vehicle.”
McCarthy, who’s been involved in the annual police-vehicle trials since 2007, said the performance gap between police sedans and SUVs has also narrowed.
“LAPD (Los Angeles Police Department) are buying a larger percentage of SUVs than they are of the sedans,” said McCarthy. “They are very capable. They have a fairly short turning radius. They’re deceptively fast.”
The Detroit 3 own the North American police market, providing pursuit versions of a dozen or so civilian models with upgraded suspensions, brakes, cooling and electrical systems, as well as interior modifications.
Automaker pursuit designations are a gray area, McCarthy said, so the MSP trials provide benchmark figures for acceleration, top speed, braking and handling.
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Hard numbers elusive
Reliable totals for police fleet sales figures aren’t precisely known. In the U.S., it’s thought to range up to 100,000 a year but McCarthy pointed out that many departments, such as New York, don’t license and register their vehicles.
Ford Canada averages 1,700-2,000 pursuit-rated vehicle sales a year, said Rob Gramada, responsible for police fleet sales.
Neither General Motors nor FCA would disclose sales figures, but Fred Dixon, GM Canada’s manager of fleet marketing and government sales, said it offers only the Chevy Tahoe in a pursuit-rated package in Canada.
Ford offers the Police Interceptor sedan, based on the Taurus, and the Police Interceptor Utility (Explorer).
“Certainly 2016 has seen a rise in utility [sales] for us,” Gramada said. “From a mix standpoint we’re up to 46 per cent calendar year to date utility as a percentage of Ford Police Interceptor sales.”
Dixon said that while GM does not offer pursuit-rated sedans in Canada, its SUV sales could also be growing because police engage in fewer high-speed chases in Canada.
“I’m not sure there’s as much pursuit going on anymore because you can’t outrun a radio,” he said.
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“I’m hearing from my customers anyway that when they look at the sedan versus the SUVs, the SUVs are a little bit more expensive (but) they actually get better durability out of them.”
That in part is due to the Tahoe’s old-school body-on-frame design, Dixon said. McCarthy agreed the Tahoe’s cost per mile is lower than for the MSP’s sedans but a large price hike in 2015 wiped out most of the benefit.
“So now we’re looking at it for specialty purposes, divers, K9 guys who require more covered cargo space,” he said.
A big selling point for the Ford Utility for police-fleet buyers is its high degree of parts commonality with the Taurus-based Interceptor sedan, McCarthy added. They’re built on essentially the same platform and share major mechanical components. Ford utilities far outstrip sedans in U.S. police sales.
The sedan does better in Canada, though largely the AWD V-6 versions. A pursuit-rated front-drive version with a four-cylinder engine, which McCarthy said turned in performance numbers comparable to the old Crown Victoria sedan, is available but Gramada said the take rate is low.
"'Deceptively fast' utility vehicles gain popularity with police" originally appeared at Automotive News at 12/28/16.