Carmakers in hot pursuit of fleet sales to police

David Undercoffler
Los Angeles Times

Fleet sales are an important part of U.S. automakers' bottom lines, and none have more cachet or higher visibility than a contract with a law enforcement agency.

In addition to producing a reliable source of revenue, being chosen by a high-profile police department is a badge of honor. Putting officers in their cars gives Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge an advertising boost.

"This is absolutely a good marketing opportunity for us," said Jonathan Honeycutt, marketing manager for Ford's police vehicles. "This is a division we want to be in."

Ford sold law enforcement agencies about 20,000 units of its Interceptor Utility, which is based on its popular Explorer sport utility vehicle, and 10,000 police-issue Taurus full-size sedans in 2014, Honeycutt said.

Those are good sales. Although Ford would not comment on how much it charges for either vehicle, the California Highway Patrol paid just under $30,000 for each of the 1,024 Interceptors it bought over the last three years, CHP Capt. Steve Mills said.

Dodge is similarly hesitant to disclose prices on its popular police vehicles. But the company does claim to build the country's bestselling police sedan, having sold more than 10,000 units of its Charger Pursuit in 2014.

Bick Pratt, head of government fleet sales for Dodge, credits the law enforcement accounts with raising awareness of its muscular cars.

"You hate to see a Charger Pursuit grille in your rearview mirror," he said. "But we think there's a lot of carry-over in terms of the macho appeal of the vehicle."

The Dodge Charger is the second-most-popular sedan that parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobiles sells. Ford's Explorer is one of the most popular SUVs on the market.

The vehicles based on them, along with Ford's Taurus and Chevrolet's Caprice and Impala sedans, are the leading choices for agencies purchasing law enforcement vehicles.

The Interceptor Utility is effectively a beefed-up Ford Explorer, while the Dodge Charger Pursuit is based on the refreshed 2015 Charger that is rolling into dealerships.

On the road, both police-issue models handle and accelerate eagerly, partly the result of upgrades that fortify them for police duties.

Both the Interceptor and the Charger Pursuit are equipped with radiator and engine and transmission oil coolers designed to withstand long high-speed chases. The heavy-duty brakes are built to withstand high heat. The suspension systems are reinforced and stiffened for better handling.

The Dodge is outfitted with a cooling fan in the trunk, not to keep criminals on ice but to cool the vehicle's electronic equipment. It also comes with a self-leveling rear suspension and enough clearance to chase drivers across highway medians or into rough terrain.

The Ford has been tested for 75-mph rear-impact crashes, a far higher threshold than production cars. The front doors are bulletproof and can withstand shots from a high-powered rifle. There are even steel plates built into the seat backs separating police officers from their rear passengers.

The Michigan State Police and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department each conduct an annual series of police vehicle tests and publish the results so that other police agencies may benefit.

In its test of 2014 vehicles, the Michigan agency found the Ford Interceptor was the fastest of 12 models to reach 100 mph; the Dodge Charger with the Hemi V-8 was the fastest around the test track; and the Chevy Caprice had, at 155 mph, the top speed.

The CHP, nearing the end of a three-year contract with Ford for the exclusive use of its vehicles, conducts its own tests but does not publish the results.