Ford hybrid pitched as durable, stealth cop car

By Phil Berg
Special to The Detroit News
Ford's Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan is a non-pursuit-rated plug-in hybrid police cruiser.

Correction: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of Ford's police brand marketing manager, the model year of the cars and the vehicle that can travel on battery-only power.

Driving downtown on Leningradsky Avenue in Moscow in 1999, I spied an ominous sign of authority. Not a Vladimir Lenin statue, but a Ford Crown Victoria, complete with a full Federal Signal light-bar, parked in the boulevard’s median, with officers inside watching traffic. Ford’s large rear-drive sedans have made up the mobility of many police departments for decades — currently Ford’s Interceptors, based on the all-wheel-drive Taurus and Explorer, make up 63 percent of new cruisers sold.

This year Ford introduced its latest tool for the folks in blue, a Police Responder Hybrid Sedan, which is a modified 2019 Fusion Hybrid five-seater. It’s the first gasoline-electric hybrid dedicated police cruiser, a more sturdy version of the Hermosillo-built Fusion, up-fitted in Ford’s Chicago modification center, says Stephen Tyler, head of Ford’s cop cars.

The new Responder Hybrid gets special abilities: It can pick its way through 18-inch deep flood waters, or speed through 10-inch deep water at 40 mph without water intruding on any electrical equipment or stalling the car. 

Although the newest Fusion is available in all-wheel drive form, the Hybrid doesn’t share this optional equipment, likely a disappointment for cops in the Rust Belt.

Ford's Special Service Plug In Hybrid can travel 25 miles on battery power alone.

Other things the Responder Hybrid can do is drive over an 8-inch tall curb at speed without damaging the suspension or steering, an ability the long-running rear-drive Crown Vics — and current Interceptors — possess.

I’ve ridden in a lot of cop cars — not as a suspected violator, but as a cub beat reporter in Minneapolis on slow news days — and often noted the cars’ inefficiencies. Back then, cops preferred large, rear-drive machines, and nobody ever complained about the poor fuel economy of a V-8 engine that was kept running from the beginning of an eight-hour shift to the end. The fuel economy of the Minneapolis Dodge Diplomat police cruisers of the day averaged a low 5 mpg because whenever the car was stopped, the engine remained running, an operational necessity especially in winter, the cops told me.

Keeping warm in winter is not the only reason cops never turn their engines off. These days air conditioning is necessary to keep hot computers working, and the cars need to be ready to chase “runners” — perpetrators who flee.

After several incidents of local police officers being run over and injured by people who stole their running police cars a few years ago, a local television station in San Diego asked former police chief William Lansdowne why police are instructed to leave their cars running even when unoccupied. 

“Officers, as they get out of the car, are always worried they’re going to get a runner,” he said. “Someone is going to try and get away, so you’ve got to have quick access to the car. You don’t have time to start the car in the process.”

Ford's latest vehicle for folks in blue is the Police Responder Hybrid Sedan, which is a modified 2019 Fusion Hybrid five-seater.

Lansdowne also explained that his city’s police department considered installing kill switches in their squad cars, but one reason they declined the idea was a concern hackers would by able to shut down all of the police cars in the city.

A non-pursuit-rated plug-in hybrid police cruiser – the Special Service Plug-In Hybrid Sedan – will be able to drive away instantly on battery power, and for the majority of the time it is parked, the gasoline engine does not need to run. It will cruise 25 miles on battery power alone, which is a boon for cops sneaking up on perpetrators without making engine noise. 

“The Hybrid is exactly right for a police vehicle,” says Ford’s Tyler. They will average $3,600 savings in gas per year.

The Responder Hybrid is not the first electrically powered cop car — that was the country’s first-ever police car in Akron, Ohio, with a top speed of 18 mph and a range of 30 miles, propelled by two four-horsepower electric motors.

Unlike police cars introduced in the 1950s from Detroit’s automakers, the Responder Hybrid does not have a special powertrain just for cops. Still, it’s only available to police departments.