The skinny on the thin blue line: talking cop cars and alternative drivetrains and fuels

At the annual vehicle testing roundup run by the Michigan State Police at the Chrysler Proving Ground, AutoblogGreen had the chance to chat with Lt. David Halliday about fuel economy and alternative fuel powertrains in law enforcement vehicle. With the increase in fuel costs over the past few years, one hard hit group is police agencies. Many forces and in particular state police agencies spend a significant amount of time patrolling and consuming fuel which has a major impact on their operating budgets. While some local forces have begun incorporating hybrids and smaller vehicles into their fleets, no such vehicles were included in this test.

Continue reading about police vehicles after the jump.
The absence of hybrids in the test was due to the fact that they only evaluate vehicles that are specifically offered by carmakers for special service use and no such vehicles meet that criteria at this time. There were three flex-fuel vehicles in the test, the Ford Crown Victoria, Chevy Impala and Tahoe, all of which are equipped with flex-fuel engines as standard equipment. All of these were tested with both gasoline and E85 and performance numbers were similar in each case.

According to Lt. Halliday, police agencies aren't averse to alternative powertrains, but fuel economy is not a primary factor in their decision making. Because of their special needs, performance and utility requirements must take priority when choosing police vehicles. If a vehicle can't meet the acceleration braking and handling needs of the application, efficiency means little. State and rural police in particular need larger cars because of the all the equipment they have to carry.

These officers are often patrolling significant distances from their posts and they need to carry everything they may need with them because they may not be able to go back to their posts. These vehicles typically accumulate a lot more mileage than civilian vehicles so durability is critical. As a result even though many of the vehicles they use are flex-fuel capable, concerns with corrosion may prevent some forces from using E85 even if it is available.

Another potential alternative is diesels. Since their introduction last year the Dodge Charger and Magnum police specials have proved quite popular with police. Their platform-mate, the Chrysler 300, is sold in Europe with a Mercedes-Benz 3.0L diesel V-6 that's also available now in the Jeep Grand Cherokee. If Chrysler were to offer the diesel option in the Charger/Magnum some forces would definitely consider it, although there are also concerns about the durability and cost in police applications. While the initial cost is a legitimate concern, many European police use Mercedes diesels so durability probably shouldn't be a problem.

Another possibility is smaller engines and that's something Ford is considering. When asked about the future of the Crown Vic, a Ford spokesman said that Twin-Force is something that could appear in future police vehicles. Twin-Force is Ford's branding for smaller displacement engines with direct fuel injection and turbo-charging. Hybrids don't seem to be in anyone's plans for mainstream patrol vehicles right now. For the foreseeable future the only place these are likely to see much application is in urban environments such as the recent Chicago decision to add Toyota hybrids to their fleet.

Here's a list of other police vehicle posts on AutoblogGreen:

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