The Car Geek: Dodge Challenges Ford, Chevy Police Cars

The Car Geek

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Dodge Challenges Ford, Chevy Police Cars

Police cars have to be fast. They have to be reliable. Ask the police – which car is best for chasing criminals?

With the heightened competition in the police car segment, expect remarkable products. One of the promising police cars on American roads comes from Dodge.

The sporty upstart Dodge Charger is aiming to challenge the Ford Crown Victoria as chief of police cars. Chrysler's full-sized model launched in the previous year is no immediate threat to the Crown Vic or Chevrolet Impala, the market's other major player. But the Charger is increasing traction in a market that sells 75,000 vehicles annually as national tests cite its speed and handling.

"We've been steadily gaining market share and acceptance for the police vehicle since its inception," said Chrysler LLC spokeswoman Shawn Morgan. "We see that trend continuing." It is a small dent in the automotive industry, which expects to sell about 16 million cars this year. But it is an important niche for automakers because it gives them a chance to put their products to the test when life — or at least the law — is on the line, said the International Herald Tribune.

"That vehicle has to accommodate a bunch of requirements — it's an officer's first-aid station, comfort area for accident victims, command post for a crime scene. Next thing you know it's involved in a high-speed run, responding to a heart attack, chasing a criminal," said Lt. David Halliday, who leads the Michigan State Police's annual police vehicle tests that serve as a national standard for law enforcement.

"We really ask (the automakers) to do an enduring duty for the public that's often underestimated," he added.

Automakers do not break out data for sales to law enforcement agencies, but overall sales for the full-sized Charger were 97,833, up 1.5% for the first 10 months of 2007 compared with last year, the report added. According to Autodata Corp, the Crown Victoria's sales were 51,286, down 7.2% during the same period. The Impala's total sales through October were 270,504, up 12.6%.

John Felice, director of North American fleet operations at Ford, said the decline is due to a drop in retail sales, which accounts for a small percentage of the Crown Victoria's sales. He said Ford forecasts flat sales this year for police cars and controls about 80% of the market.

The IHT said the latest round of police vehicle tests on 2008 models found the Charger with the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine had the fastest acceleration, highest top speed and among the shortest braking distances.

"Law enforcement has always liked good performance in a vehicle," Halliday said. "For example, the (5.7-liter) Charger has a top speed of (nearly) 150 mph (241 kph). If you're in the market for a vehicle that has that kind of performance, that kind of vehicle will fit the bill."

Halliday believes the Charger might be garnering attention because it offers a new option in the market, long dominated by Ford and General Motors Corp.'s Chevy division.

"Competition is good for law enforcement," Halliday concluded. "It strengthens the industry in making the vehicles capable across the board for a variety of missions."

It seems like the maker of Dodge seat covers is on the right track and chasing its rivals pretty closely.