Going Big: SUVs for Patrol

January 2015, Government Fleet - Feature

by David Griffith

Photo courtesy of Ford
Photo courtesy of Ford

One of the reasons so many officers and agencies swore by the Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor for more than two decades until its retirement in 2011 was all the stuff it could carry. The Crown Vic could haul all of the equipment necessary for contemporary patrol operations, plus the officers, and still overtake some of the fastest traffic offenders.

At a Glance

Law enforcement agencies are choosing SUVs for:

  • More interior room
  • Improved safety
  • Added height for better visibility
  • Similar cost to sedans.

This is why so many law enforcement agencies were unsure about what to do next when Ford ended production of the Panther platform and subsequently retired the Crown Vic. Four years ago, it looked like the battle for the Crown Vic’s commanding share of the American law enforcement patrol vehicle market would come down to three sedans: the Dodge Charger Pursuit, the Chevrolet Caprice PPV, and the Ford Police Interceptor. But law enforcement agencies have started to rethink their needs and now, by far, the most popular new patrol vehicles coming out of Detroit are pursuit-rated SUVs.

Agencies are buying SUVs to replace sedans for a variety of reasons.

First, it should be noted, these are not soccer mom SUVs. They have the power of muscle cars, and they can hug turns like much smaller vehicles. So agencies that choose to field these pursuit-rated “sport utes” are not sacrificing performance for size.

This brings us to the real reason law enforcement fleet managers and officers in the field love SUVs. They can carry a lot of stuff — a lot of heavy stuff. And they are also big enough to comfortably seat large officers with all of the equipment on their belts and all of the equipment they need in the field without cramping the operators.

Then there are the intangibles. For example, most speeders don’t have eyes peeled for SUVs, which gives highway patrol troopers more stealth than they had when just about every driver could pick out the distinctive black honeycomb grille of the Crown Vic. Also, the raised height of SUVs makes it easier for officers to spot seat belt violators. The New York State Police is even fielding 32 unmarked patrol SUVs in an effort to spot motorists who are texting while they drive.

But perhaps the most important reason some agencies are choosing SUVs over sedans is they offer improved officer safety. Bigger vehicles are generally more survivable in an accident.

Chevrolet

Chevrolet has been making a police pursuit-­rated version of the Tahoe for more than a decade. And it is the only full-size SUV to be certified as a police pursuit-­rated vehicle. It’s also Chevy’s best-­selling law enforcement vehicle.

“One of the things that is driving sales of the Tahoe in this market is the fact that it has such a large interior. The Tahoe has more space than any other pursuit-rated vehicle and that gives officers the room they need,” said Dana Hammer, General Motors’ manager for law enforcement fleet.

Hammer says another aspect of the Tahoe PPV that is attractive to law enforcement is its durability. The Tahoe is the only pursuit-rated vehicle constructed with the body-on-frame technique. In other words, it’s built like a truck.

The durability of the Tahoe also extends to its drive train. Hammer says customers benefit from the longevity of the Tahoe in one of two ways: resale value or long duty life. Either way, Chevy says the Tahoe offers long-term economic benefits over the traditional patrol sedan, even though it costs a bit more at purchase.

“Resale value on the Tahoe is outstanding,” Hammer said. “Two 2011 Tahoe PPVs, each with about 90,000 miles on them, recently sold at auction for $12,000 apiece. Let’s say they were purchased new for about $26,000. Then those vehicles cost the agencies that used them $14,000 to $15,000 to drive them for three years.”

Selling their Tahoe PPVs at a set number of service miles is one way that agencies can minimize costs on operating the vehicles. Another is to take advantage of the Tahoe’s durability and extend the service life. “Truck-based products like the Tahoe can run longer periods with higher mileage because they are built for that and more durable,” Hammer says. “We definitely see agencies are running Tahoe PPVs longer than sedans. That lets them spread the cost of ownership over a longer time period.”

Another aspect of the Tahoe PPV that makes it economical for law enforcement agencies over its lifecycle is the efficiency of its engine. All 2015 Tahoe PPV models are powered by Chevy’s next-­generation small block V-8 (officially the 5.3L EcoTec3), which produces 385 hp and 383 ft.-lbs. of torque. That’s 35 hp and 48 ft.-lbs. more than the previous Tahoe PPV engine. And thanks to direct injection, cylinder deactivation, and other fuel-saving technologies, the 2015 two-wheel-drive version of the Tahoe PPV boasts improved fuel economy of 7% more in city driving and 10% more for highway driving. “This is a real win-win of more power and more efficiency,” Hammer said.

The 2015 Tahoe PPV also has been given a major redesign, and for the first time, it’s being offered in a four-wheel-drive model.

Chevy said the 2015 Tahoe PPV 4WD is the first four-wheel-drive to be marketed as a law enforcement pursuit vehicle. (Note: Ford’s Police Interceptor Utility is all-wheel drive, not four-wheel drive.)

Hammer said customer demand was behind Chevy’s decision to offer the Tahoe PPV 4WD. “Obviously four-wheel drive is very big with our customers in the snowbelt,” he said. “But there’s also a lot of demand in markets that I wouldn’t have expected. People want them for driving on beaches, off road, back roads, and gravel roads.”

Sgt. J.E. Brewer, fixed asset manager for the North Carolina Highway Patrol, said his agency is planning to purchase Tahoe PPV 4WD models to replace some of its 250 Tahoes that are aging out. Brewer and the NCHP’s fleet manager attended the 2014 Michigan State Police vehicle evaluations and saw the Tahoe PPV 4WD put through its paces. “We were very impressed,” he said, adding that the NCHP is waiting for the vehicles to be police certified.

The primary users of the new NCHP Tahoes will be commercial vehicle inspectors who have to carry weight and measurement equipment but also have to pursue vehicles on the highway. Brewer said the 4WD Tahoes will be mostly assigned to troopers who work in the mountains and need the traction for snow and ice.

FCA US

The Dodge brand of FCA US, formerly Chrysler Group, does not offer a pursuit-­rated SUV, but it does sell the Durango Special Service vehicle to law enforcement as a complement to the Charger Pursuit sedan and the Ram 1500 Special Service Truck.

The Dodge Durango Special Service comes standard with the Pentastar 3.6L V-6 and is also available with a 5.7L HEMI V-8. The 3.6L V-6 has a 550-mile driving range, delivers 290 hp, and has a 7,400-lb. towing capacity.

Features include a heavy-duty brake package, a heavy-duty battery, a larger output 220-amp alternator, heavy-duty water pump, heavy-duty engine cooler, and a customizable rear cargo area with under-floor storage areas.

Ford

Just as it was in the patrol sedan market for many years, Ford is the undisputed sales champion in the pursuit-rated SUV market. In fact, the company’s mid-size Ford Police Interceptor Utility, which is based on the Ford Explorer SUV, is the best-­selling vehicle in American law enforcement.

The Ford Interceptor Utility debuted in 2012 as a counterpart to the Police Interceptor Sedan. At first the company planned to market a two-wheel-drive version and an all-wheel-drive version as it does with the sedan, but customer preference quickly changed that plan. “Agencies were ordering all-wheel-drive 90% of the time,” said Jonathan Honeycutt, explaining why the PI Utility is only offered in all-wheel drive.

Honeycutt said when Ford launched the PI Utility, it expected the SUV to be popular with police customers, but not as popular as it has become. “We have definitely been pleasantly surprised,” he said.

Asked to explain the popularity, Honeycutt pointed to space, performance, and payload capability. “The base 3.7L engine has a 1,620-lb. payload,” said Honeycutt, “but it gives you sedan-like performance. If you look at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State Police testing results, you’ll see that our Utility is very fast and it handles very well. It still has all the Interceptor DNA of safety, durability, and performance.”

In addition to its performance and payload capability, another reason the PI Utility is so popular is price. Despite all of its extra space and capabilities, Honeycutt said the Utility is not significantly more costly than the Sedan. He says the Utility averages about $1,000 more in price over the Sedan.

The base model of the Police Interceptor Utility is powered by a 3.7L naturally aspirated V-6 engine that generates 305 hp and 279 ft.-lbs. of torque. Buyers can also opt for a twin-turbocharged 3.5L EcoBoost V-6 that produces 365 hp and 350 ft.-lbs. of torque.

California Highway Patrol fleet managers selected the PI Utility as its primary patrol vehicle in 2012. One of the key reasons that the CHP chose the Utility over the available sedans was payload requirements.

Eric Lamoureaux, then general services spokesman for the CHP, told POLICE Magazine in 2012 that the CHP’s patrol cars must be able to carry 1,500 lbs. That payload includes 459 lbs. of installed equipment, 880 lbs. of people, 96 lbs. of safety equipment, 87 lbs. of stored CHP equipment, and a 55-lb. full-size spare tire.

About the Author:

David Griffith is the editor of POLICE Magazine, sister magazine of Government Fleet. This article originally appeared in the November 2014 issue of POLICE.

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