Ford says the 2020 Police Interceptor Utility hybrid is more powerful and more economical than the current gasoline-only models. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

Ford says the 2020 Police Interceptor Utility hybrid is more powerful and more economical than the current gasoline-only models. (Photo: Ford Motor Company)

Last summer Ford introduced the first pursuit-rated patrol vehicle with a hybrid powertrain. Response was excited curiosity with numerous agencies buying the vehicle for its fuel savings and performance. But the minute Ford rolled out the Police Responder Hybrid Sedan, the company's police fleet sales reps started hearing one key question: "Are you going to make an SUV?"  

The reason for that question is easily understood. Ford's Police Interceptor Utility is by far America's most popular law enforcement patrol vehicle. The company says the PI Utility, which is based on the Explorer, holds 52% of the market. So fleet managers wanted to know when they could get a PI Utility hybrid and the Ford reps had to bite their tongues because the answer would reveal corporate strategy and secrets about the next generation of consumer Ford SUVs.

Now Ford's police fleet reps can stop biting their tongues and start talking to customers about the PI Utility hybrid. The company announced in June that it would be making a PI Utility with a hybrid powertrain and all-wheel drive for the 2020 model year. "We're so happy to be able to announce this," says Stephen Tyler, Ford Police brand marketing manager.

But even with the announcement, the company is not providing a lot of detail on the new vehicle. Ford has not unveiled the 2020 Explorer yet, so photos of the 2020 PI Utility hybrid are set in fog and lights to obscure body detail and Ford has yet to reveal specs on the vehicle or the engine.

What the company will say about the 2020 PI Utility hybrid is that it's going to be a beast in terms of performance. Tyler says the hybrid pursuit SUV is going to have more horsepower and more torque than the current 3.7-liter V6 of the 2018 PI Utility. The increased horsepower and torque will also give the hybrid a boost in top speed and greater acceleration.

"With hybrids people are used to making some kind of tradeoff; I can be green or I can do this," Tyler says. "The most exciting thing about this vehicle is there are no tradeoffs. You don't lose any interior passenger or cargo room. You get greater horsepower, torque, and top speed. In addition, you get significant fuel economy. The days of 'or' are behind us. These are the days of 'and.'"

Fuel savings from the hybrid PI Utility are significant. Ford says the combined highway and city MPG is 24 compared with 17 for the 2018, a 40% increase in mileage. But increased MPG is not the only way the hybrid PI Utility can save agencies on fuel costs. The real fuel expenditure in law enforcement patrol operations is leaving the vehicle running while it's parked at a scene so that it can keep the battery charged to run lights, radios, air conditioning, computers, and other stuff that draws current. The PI Utility hybrid can do that without the engine running. It uses the hybrid batteries and if the charge starts to get low on the batteries it will run the engine just long enough to give them a boost. Ford calculates that the savings over idling a gas engine combined with the MPG increase will save agencies that adopt the PI Utility hybrid $3,500 per vehicle per year. You can go here for more information.

There are other ways beyond fuel economy that the PI Utility hybrid will save agencies money, according to Tyler. The savings are derived from less maintenance on the vehicle for things like brake pads and oil changes.

Ford's New Police Telematics

In June, Ford Commercial Solutions introduced two new telematics products to help law enforcement fleet managers gain insight into the performance of their vehicles.

The new Data Services product gives fleet managers direct access to OEM-grade vehicle data, allowing them to better manage their fleets. The service takes advantage of Ford vehicles’ built-in modems to transfer vehicle data directly from the vehicle to the cloud. 

Utilizing Data Services, fleets can gain access to Ford vehicle information such as GPS location, mileage, fuel use data, vehicle health alerts, driver behavior, and more. Because Ford designed the vehicle — including its electrical architecture, data systems and vehicle technology — the company is able to provide the newest updates and vehicle signals as soon as they become available, and deliver insights as quickly as agencies need them. 

A second telematics product designed specifically for police fleets takes data collected through the Data Services product and distills it into information that can help improve fleet efficiency and driver behavior. The application translates information from Ford vehicles to provide insights on fuel usage, carbon dioxide emissions, vehicle health, and driver seat belt usage. That data is shared through an intuitive Website that provides law enforcement operators with an easy way to check how their fleet, or a particular vehicle, is operating.

Ford says it can retrofit modems onto Ford police vehicles back to model year 2012. Two Ford police vehicles, the 2019 Police Responder Hybrid Sedan and the the Police Interceptor Utility 2020 and after, come with factory-installed modems and a two-year subscription to the telematics products.

"The focus of these telematics products is to keep police vehicles up and running on the road and in top shape," says Stephen Tyler, Ford's Police brand marketing manager.

Hybrids use a dual system to slow down and stop the vehicle. The electric motor of a vehicle like the 2020 PI Utility hybrid reverses its spin when the driver applies the brakes. This braking action turns the motor into a generator that helps keep the vehicle's batteries charged. Automakers call this regenerative braking, and it's enough to stop the vehicle under some circumstances. But the braking system also includes friction brakes with calipers, pads, and rotors for more sudden stops. Tyler says fleet managers for agencies that field hybrid vehicles will have less cost and less downtime for brake pad replacement.

Another way that hybrids save on maintenance is oil changes. The electric motor does not use the crank case oil for lubrication. And since the gasoline engine only runs during certain types of driving conditions the hours on the engine are reduced and oil life extended. Like the brake pads, this saves both money and vehicle downtime.

Ford says that with its fuel savings and reduced cost of maintenance the 2020 PI Utility hybrid will pay back the additional cost of the hybrid powertrain in two years. Tyler adds that the vehicle will be a great value for agencies because it comes with $2,000 of standard equipment that is not available on the current standard model.

Part of that standard equipment is a factory-installed Ford modem and a two-year subscription to the company's new telematics service. "This is manufacturer grade information telematics," Tyler says. "We know how to access all the signals in the vehicle and provide the information that agencies have been asking for. We've been working with agencies across the country in developing this and making it right for law enforcement fleets."

Other standard equipment of note on the 2020 Ford Utility hybrid includes: Bluetooth capability with pass through voice commands for Android and Apple phones, factory-installed wig wags, user-programmable steering wheel switches, tilt and telescoping steering wheel, and deep sand and snow traction control. A standard feature that many officers will appreciate is that the automatic on/off headlamps revert to the last used position. On Ford's consumer vehicles the lights revert to automatic and turn on. "Officers don't want to start up their vehicles on a surveillance and have the lights come on," Tyler says.

Ford plans to offer a number of innovative officer safety options on the 2020 PI Utility hybrid. Ford's new Police Perimeter Alert system is an improved version of the Surveillance ambush alert system developed by Ford and InterMotive. The new version is factory installed and it also features better threat awareness. The older system had a hard time distinguishing between a jogger running parallel to the patrol vehicle and someone running right at it, according to Tyler. "The improved version uses an algorithm to determine if someone's movements present a possible threat," he says.

Another officer safety option that will be available on the 2020 PI Utility hybrid is Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB). This system automatically applies the brakes if the vehicle is about to hit another car. The police version features a disable switch that allows officers to intentionally hit another vehicle when necessary. "If the officer disables the system, for example, to perform a PIT maneuver, it won't stop the vehicle," Tyler says. List price on the AEB option is $145 extra per vehicle. "AEB is a technology we really want to see police agencies adopt because we know the value of it. So we kept the MSRP on that option really low," Tyler says.

The hybrid with all-wheel drive will be the standard powertrain on the 2020 PI Utility, Tyler says. But customers will have the option of a gas engine if they prefer.