Few corporate secrets are more closely guarded than new vehicle designs and features. Even though automotive companies are constantly showing futuristic prototypes at the Los Angeles, Detroit, and Tokyo auto shows, they are extremely tight-lipped when it comes to what they actually plan to produce.
So given that future patrol vehicle models and the features of those models are treated like state secrets by Chevrolet, Dodge (FCA), and Ford, what can we say about the next generation of law enforcement vehicles that will be offered by these companies? Not much that we absolutely know to be true. But we can make some educated guesses based on what is happening in the patrol vehicle market today.
Patrol vehicle engines are getting more and more sophisticated. And while the Big Three are all producing some very efficient and powerful motors, Ford is really pushing the technology envelope.
Back in 2011 Ford first started showing vehicles with the V6 Ecoboost engine. The Ecoboost, with its turbos and direct injection, is one of the most high-tech gas engines used to power police vehicles. The 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost used in the Ford Police Interceptor Utility and Sedan packs 365 horses at 5,500 RPM and 350 foot-pounds of torque over a tachometer range that begins at 1,500 RPM and rises to 5,250 RPM. The 3.5-liter V6 Ecoboost on Ford's new pursuit pickup truck, the F-150 Police Responder, produces 375 horsepower and 470 pound-feet of torque.
It's likely Ford's next generation of patrol vehicles will include models powered by Ecoboost V6 powerplants, but it's not much of a leap to say that Ford will be extending its use of the hybrid engine into pursuit-rated patrol vehicles. Last year the company rolled out its Hybrid Police Responder, the first hybrid to ever be pursuit rated. Built on the Fusion sedan platform, the Hybrid Police Responder is powered by a 2.0-liter I-4 Atkinson-cycle gas engine combined with an 88-kilowatt A/C motor driven by a 1.4-kilowatt lithium-ion battery.
More hybrid police vehicles are probably on the way from all of the Big Three automakers. Still, some might question the need for hybrid engines in law enforcement, given the additional upfront costs for the engines and the relatively inexpensive price of gasoline. Stephen Tyler, police brand marketing manager for Ford, says there's one key aspect of patrol vehicle operations that attracts fleet managers to hybrids as an economical alternative to gasoline engines: idling. The hybrids use the battery when idling and charge it again when the officer starts driving. Tyler says that under typical police operation the money saved by not burning gas idling at scenes pays for the extra upfront cost of the hybrid engine in just one year, even with regular unleaded gasoline selling at a nationwide average of around $2.50.
Electric engines are also a possibility in the next generation of patrol vehicles, but experts say hybrids are more practical for patrol work. Electric-only cars have limitations on how long they can be driven without being recharged, and charging currently takes much more time than filling a tank with gas.
The next generation of police patrol vehicles will not be self-driving, but they will have semi-autonomous systems designed to help the officer drive more safely, especially while multi-tasking on the radio or computer.
Chevrolet is already offering semi-autonomous safety systems as an option on the 2018 Tahoe PPV. The option called the Enhanced Driver Assist Package consists of collision avoidance technologies and hazard alert systems, including:
Low Speed Forward Automatic Braking: This feature, which Chevy says has never been offered on a pursuit-rated vehicle before, automatically applies the brakes to help prevent collisions and make collisions that do happen less damaging. The system engages if the vehicle is traveling at a low speed and the system detects that a front-end collision is imminent and the driver has not already applied the brakes.
Forward Collision Alert: This system uses radar and a forward-looking camera to measure the closing speeds between a vehicle and objects in its path. If a driver-adjustable threshold is passed, the system triggers a visual alert and audible beeps or seat vibrations.
Lane Keep Assist with Lane Departure Warning: This feature provides gentle steering wheel turns to help drivers avoid crashes due to unintentionally drifting out of their lanes when they are not actively steering and the turn signals are not activated.
Safety Alert Driver Seat: The GM-patented Safety Alert Seat gives drivers the option of getting seat-bottom vibration pulses instead of audible crash avoidance alerts.
Dana Hammer, Chevy's product and marketing manager for law enforcement vehicles, says fleet managers are demanding safety features that can prevent minor accidents. They are reporting "many low speed forward accidents," he explains.
Hammer says he realizes officers are not going to want to surrender any control of the vehicles they drive and he emphasizes that Chevy's new safety features can be easily overridden by the driver. "If you are actively steering and braking, you are in control," he says. Chevy also knows there are times when officers need to collide with another vehicle such as in a PIT maneuver. "If you are accelerating or braking, then the active braking will not engage," Hammer says.
Hammer says that adding the Enhanced Driver Assist Package to a new 2018 Tahoe PPV adds $695 to the cost of the vehicle. Customers are surprised at the price, he explains, and adds that Chevy intentionally kept the safety package affordable to make it available to more officers.
Chevy's new safety features for the 2018 Tahoe PPV are optional, but the next generation of patrol vehicles will likely have similar semi-autonomous systems as standard features.
Ford Seeks Patent for Robotic Patrol Car
News broke last month that Ford has applied for a patent for a totally autonomous patrol car. As presented in the patent application, the car will not only be able to carry police, but also be a kind of robocop.
According to reports from Motor1 and Jalopnik, Ford envisions a vehicle that will be able to perform traffic enforcement duties, either on its own or in conjunction with surveillance cameras and/or roadside sensors. It's possible that such an autonomous patrol vehicle will be able to access the identity of the driver, the driver's license information, the vehicle registration, and the insurance information on the target vehicle, and electronically send a citation to the offender's computer.
If an officer is inside the autonomous car, he or she would be able to override the autonomous systems and take control of the vehicle.
This may sound like science fiction, but the technology is being developed. The questions that will have to be answered are how the technology will be used and how future courts will view such robotic enforcement systems.
Officer Safety Features
Officer safety features on the next generation of patrol vehicles will go beyond collision avoidance and include attack awareness systems. For the 2017 Dodge Charger Pursuit Fiat, Chrysler teamed with InterMotive Vehicle Controls to produce Rear Cross Path Detection, essentially an ambush warning system that alerts officers to movement at the rear or side of a parked vehicle.
Officers driving Dodge Charger Pursuits equipped with the Officer Protection Package can activate the system whenever they are parked by pressing a dedicated auxiliary button on the steering wheel. All four doors must be closed; the front windows can be up or down.
When someone gets close to the vehicle, the system is activated. An alert sounds, the doors lock, the front windows roll up, reverse lights turn on, and the taillights begin to flash. The system works even if the officer doesn’t happen to notice an approaching individual.
Such subject approach alert systems and potential ambush warnings will be common on patrol vehicles in the near future.
Cars and trucks are no longer just vehicles, they are rolling computers, and they are rapidly becoming rolling WiFi hotspots. For 2017, built-in WiFi connectivity was available on the Dodge Charger and the Chevy Tahoe. Ford is adding 4G built-in WiFi into select 2018 models. This may make it easier for agencies to connect their data systems in the vehicles.
Connectivity also means built-in displays for patrol vehicles. The trend in consumer vehicles is bigger, more powerful displays as seen in the new Tesla Model 3 and other makes. There's also movement to add personal assistants such as Amazon's Alexa into consumer vehicles.
These trends are sure to be reflected in the next generation of law enforcement vehicles as well. Since 2016 Dodge has been offering a built-in dash display system, Uconnect, to take the place of a laptop in the Charger's driver area. The 12.1-inch display screen allows agencies to mount their computers in the trunks of their vehicles instead of the cockpit, freeing up valuable real estate and eliminating the possibility of officers being injured by computers during an accident.
The need for more cockpit real estate and cargo area storage has led many agencies to choose SUVs for their patrol fleets. Big patrol vehicles now rule the road.
Chevy only makes one pursuit-rated police vehicle now, the Tahoe PPV in rear-wheel and four-wheel-drive variants. And Ford's Interceptor Utility based on the Explorer SUV is the best-selling police vehicle in America, far exceeding the sales of the company's Police Interceptor Sedan. Even Dodge, which currently does not offer a pursuit-rated SUV, is expected to introduce a 2019 model year patrol Durango.
At the 2018 Michigan State Police Vehicle Test held last September, Dodge representatives declined to provide full details about how a pursuit-rated Durango would be different from the 2017 Durango Special Service but they did offer some basics. Both vehicles are powered by a 5.7-liter V-8 engine that delivers power via an eight-speed transmission to a rear-wheel or available all-wheel-drive system. "It's a rear-wheel-drive vehicle with an all-wheel-drive option," says David Callery, FCA's program manager for police and emergency response vehicles. "…The vehicle has to hold up to the rigors of daily patrol. We believe it's equal or superior to the other vehicles out there."
Does the rise of the SUV necessarily mean patrol sedans will not be available by 2020? Maybe. Chevy's Caprice PPV was discontinued in 2017, and it's not known if the next generation of Dodge Charger will include a Pursuit model. However, Ford says it plans to continue producing patrol sedans, including hybrid engine sedans, maybe even pursuit-rated hybrid sedans.
But currently, all three of the largest American carmakers are focusing on giving law enforcement bigger and more versatile patrol platforms. Nowhere is this better evidenced than in Ford's patrol pickup. Tyler says the pursuit-rated truck was built to answer customer demand. "Customers have told us they need a vehicle that is pursuit capable for the road but with 4x4 capability for off-road," he says.
The 2018 F-150 Police Responder can chase down speeders and tow boats and trailers. Tyler also believes agencies will want to use the F-150 Police Responder for transporting personnel. The pickup has a 145-inch wheelbase with 131.8 cubic feet of interior passenger space, and Tyler says its cab offers the most front and rear hip and shoulder room and most rear leg room of any pursuit-rated vehicle. It has enough room, according to Tyler, to comfortably seat five officers in body armor and carrying duty gear.
Given all the indicators that we see in current and expected vehicles from the Big Three car makers, we can draw the following conclusions about the next generation of law enforcement patrol vehicles: they will be bigger multi-purpose vehicles with high-tech engine systems, advanced semi-autonomous safety features, and high-speed internet connectivity. They won't drive themselves, but that's certainly coming perhaps by the end of the next decade.
David Griffith is the editor of POLICE Magazine, where this article first appeared.