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Ford unveils its first pursuit-rated police SUV

Ford has taken the wraps off its latest entry in what is getting to be a crowded police vehicle market: the 2011 Police Interceptor Utility. Sporting the same black-and-white graphics as its Police Interceptor stablemate and a generous helping of flashing LEDs, the Explorer-based vehicle is Ford’s first-ever pursuit-rated SUV and is designed to go up against the larger two-wheel-drive Chevrolet Tahoe PPV (Police Pursuit Vehicle) which has found favor with many law enforcement agencies. Though no prices have been announced, the Police Interceptor Utility should be able to undercut the Tahoe’s $32,500-plus price tag and easily beat its 17 mpg (combined) thirst for unleaded.

“We understand today’s police departments require adaptability,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of The Americas. “Ford is committed to remaining the nation’s largest provider of police vehicles, and we’re offering law enforcement officials a complete portfolio of options that are purpose-built, capable and delivered with the safety, technology and performance they need to excel at their jobs.”

Ford has previously offered what it calls a “Severe Service Vehicle” package for previous generations of the Explorer and Expedition but they were not designed for pursuit and Ford did not recommend they be used for duties like traffic enforcement. Ford says new PI Utility can handle the demands and is designed for high-speed operation.

According to the Ford timetable, both the Police Interceptor and the Police Interceptor Utility will go into production in late 2011 to coincide with the final run of the venerable Crown Victoria Police Interceptor. This may put the new Fords at a disadvantage as both the 2011 Charger and the new Caprice will already be on the market. Other potential disadvantages are the platform’s front-wheel drive (all new Chrysler and GM police vehicles are cop-preferred rear-wheel drive) and lack of a V8. Ford says the new V6 engines, producing either 280 or 365 horsepower, offer up to a 20% improvement in fuel mileage and notes both the Police Interceptor and the Police Interceptor Utility can be optioned with all-wheel drive (the Tahoe PPV is rear-wheel drive only)

The Police Interceptor Utility shares the same D3 Platform as the Police Interceptor sedan, Taurus and Flex. Like the Police Interceptor and Taurus, the PI Utility will be built at Ford’s Chicago plant. While U.S. assembly might help the Police Interceptor sedan compete for procurement officers’ favor with the Canadian-built Charger and the Australian Caprice, the Police Interceptor Utility won’t have a similar advantage: the Tahoe is built in Arlington, Texas.

The Police Interceptor Utility also offers bullet-proof doors, stab-proof front seat backs and Bluetooth control of communications equipment. To eliminate concerns about the CVPI’s well-publicized tendency to burst into flames in certain rear-end collisions, both vehicles have been tested for 75 mph impacts. Like the Caprice and Charger Police Package, the new Ford Police Interceptors will be sold only to government agencies.

With a 70% share, Ford has basically owned the police car market since the Chevrolet Caprice went out of production in 1996. The Dodge Charger is in second place with an 18% share while the current Impala gets just 11% of police fleet orders. Though the market is not large, 65,000 to 80,000 vehicles annually, it is important from a prestige and public relations standpoint – patrol vehicles are highly visible.

The introduction of the Police Interceptor Utility leaves Chrysler as the only Detroit automaker lacking a pursuit-rated light truck. The Jeep Liberty and Dodge Durango could be ordered as special service vehicles but the Charger is currently the only Chrysler Group vehicle specifically marketed for police use. Perhaps the folks in Auburn Hills are thinking about this as they put the finishing touches on the next-generation Durango.

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