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2012 Michigan Vehicle Tests: Patrol Cars

Fleet managers are attending evaluation runs and crunching the numbers to see which of three outstanding new patrol vehicles best suit their needs.

November 11, 2011  |  by - Also by this author

Ford Police Interceptor. Photo: Michigan State Police
Ford Police Interceptor. Photo: Michigan State Police

This year for the first time in two decades the crop of patrol cars that arrived for testing at the Michigan State Police vehicle evaluations didn't include a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. That is truly the end of an era.

Chrysler's Dodge Charger Pursuit, General Motors' Chevy Caprice PPV, and Ford's Police Interceptor are now the talk of the police vehicle world, as the Big 3 battle to see what company and what car will take the lion's share of what has been undeniably the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor's market.

"Now there are three players, and the competition is greater than it's ever been," says Jerry Newbury, fleet operations manager with the Texas Department of Public Safety. "They're all listening to their customers and trying to give their customers what they want."

Embracing the New

Newbury, who manages 43,000 vehicles for the Texas Highway Patrol, Texas Rangers, and other Texas Department of Public Safety divisions, chose the Dodge Charger to replace the agency's Crown Vics. Newbury purchases about 1,000 vehicles a year, including 650 black-and-whites.

The Charger fit Newbury's need for V-8 power for highway pursuits and drug interdiction, and helped him stretch his fleet dollar. He will likely also purchase up to 40 Ford Police Interceptor Utility vehicles for the more inclement weather in the Texas Panhandle.

Texas troopers may need to tap extra power in highway pursuits. For municipal officers with more restrictive pursuit policies, a very durable vehicle is required. The Wilmington (Del.) Police Department and Montclair (Calif.) Police Department (see "Choosing Caprice") have selected the Caprice, which in 2012 will be in its second year of production.

"We gave consideration to two-officer units in an urban environment," Wilmington Police Chief Michael Szczerba says. "We like a car that remains conducive to two-officer units. Policing in an urban environment brings wear and tear on the vehicle."

Dodge Charger. Photo: Michigan State Police
Dodge Charger. Photo: Michigan State Police

The Charger and Caprice offer rear-wheel drivetrains, which would be ineffective for the officers of the Salt Lake City Police Department, which is leaning toward Ford's all-wheel Police Interceptor. The agency must patrol hilly streets that can collect heavy snow between December and March, according to Sgt. Cameron Platt, fleet coordinator.

"We have some very high and steep hills," Platt says. "A rear-wheel drive for us just doesn't cut it."

Choosing the Status Quo

Ford's bid to stay on top among police vehicle manufacturers gets underway full-throttle in December when the Dearborn, Mich.-based automaker begins taking orders for its new Police Interceptors. Ford plans to deliver its vehicle to agencies in the spring. But because police agencies could still order Crown Vics for the 2011 model year, many opted to postpone their decision until 2012.

The Long Beach (Calif.) Police Department opted to stock up on enough Crown Vics to last three or four years because the Caprice and the new Ford Police Interceptor weren't available to fleet manager Jonathan Stafford at the time. The department bought 106 black-and-whites for a current fleet of 109 marked cars. The vehicles will be gradually phased in as cars go out of service.

The agency also takes comfort in the fact that automakers can continue to work out any glitches in the new vehicles. So that when Long Beach PD needs to buy new cars years from now, it will be buying proven models.

"It was much easier to go with status quo, to go with what we know," Stafford says. "Let the cars age a little, let them work out the kinks."

Tags: Michigan State Police, Dodge Charger, Chevrolet Caprice, Ford Police Interceptor, Vehicle Testing

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