By Rich Pollack
For almost two decades, the police car you were likely to see in your rear view mirror, parked in a shady spot on A1A or patrolling your South Florida neighborhood, would probably be the roomy and powerful Ford Crown Victoria.
Produced for law enforcement use for the last 17 years, the Crown Victoria has grown to be the dominant police car in the nation, representing about 70 percent of the market.
“It has evolved as the icon of police vehicles,” says Ford’s fleet marketing manager Lisa Teed.
Now, however, the familiar Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is about to go the way of the Oldsmobile and Plymouth, and that has local law enforcement agencies scrambling as they begin the process of buying cars in the coming year.
“The Crown Vics will be missed,” says Lantana Police Chief Jeff Tyson, whose fleet of about a dozen cars is comprised largely of the Fords.
The last 2011 Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor is scheduled to roll off the assembly line in August, according to Teed, and will be replaced by a new Police Interceptor that will be totally different from the existing model. Ford also will introduce an SUV police vehicle.
For many police officers, whose cars are essentially a rolling office, the Crown Victoria is a favorite because of its roominess, durability and dependability.
“It’s like losing an old friend,” says Delray Beach Police Lt. John Battiloro. “Our officers love the Crown Vics because they feel safe in them. There’s a lot of steel in that car.”
Built to meet the needs of police departments, the Crown Victoria Police Interceptor comes with a V-8 engine, rear-wheel drive and special features designed to ensure its durability over years of heavy use.
“It’s a workhorse of a car,” says Dan Koenig, the support services manager for the Manalapan Police Department, which has four marked Crown Victorias, including a 2006 model with 122,000 miles on it.
Those miles are tougher miles than the average car has to endure, with some experts estimating that 10,000 miles on a police car is the equivalent of 30,000 miles on other cars because of the way the vehicles are used.
Now, as area police departments begin shopping for new cars, there is uncertainty about what direction their purchases will take. One thing for certain is that the physical profile of police cars, which experienced drivers could easily spot, will change.
“We’re in flux right now,” says Lantana’s Tyson.
The police departments will have several choices as they go forward, with all three of the major domestic auto manufacturers offering pursuit-rated vehicles.
General Motors currently offers the Chevrolet Impala police cars and within the next year or two is expected to be re-introducing a Chevy Caprice police vehicle, while Chrysler has a Dodge Charger police vehicle that is becoming more prevalent here in South Florida.
Many departments also are looking at the new products Ford will offer, which Ford’s Teed says were designed with lots of input from law enforcement representatives.
As Ford began phasing out the Crown Victoria platform, along with the Mercury Grand Marquis, the company decided to build a car specifically for law enforcement that would not be available on the retail market.
“We felt it was time to give law enforcement new technology, more fuel economy and other niceties,” Teed said.
While focusing on safety, durability, performance and handling, Ford also was able to design a police car that is 20 to 30 percent more fuel-efficient.
But some departments say they’re waiting to let others test the new Fords before they stick their toes in the water.
In Highland Beach, which will be replacing two vehicles in the coming year, Lt. Eric Lundberg is doing a lot of research on the new Fords and other products before the department reaches a decision on what to purchase.
One of the most important questions many smaller departments hope to answer is whether they’ll be able to transfer equipment in existing cars — the cages that separate the back seat from the officer, for example — or whether they will have to go to the expense of getting new equipment.
In Manalapan, which will buy at least one new car in the next year, the department hopes to be able to buy one of the remaining Crown Victorias before they’re all gone. Delray Beach police also hope to buy a few remaining Crown Victorias.
Sometimes it’s just too difficult to part ways with a trusted old friend.