3½ have at it in cop car sales chase

Rick Kranz is product editor for Automotive News
At last count, 3½ car companies are preparing to duke it out.

The Detroit 3 and Indy ½ each wants a big slice of the police car business.

Next year’s demise of the Ford Crown Victoria -- the top choice of law enforcement for decades -- opens up an opportunity for new players, meaning new models. At times, Ford captured about three-fourths of the market.

That being said, in terms of sales potential, it’s not a huge market, especially when the economy is weak.

This week, Ford and Chrysler spotlighted their new police car entries. Ford is essentially using a heavy-duty, front-drive Taurus, called the Interceptor. All-wheel drive is an option; deliveries begin in late 2011 or early 2012.

Dodge has the next-generation Charger, a rear drive. Dealers start taking orders in September, but Dodge won’t say when the cars will be delivered.

Chevy will reach Down Under for the upcoming Australian-built, rwd Caprice. Deliveries begin next year.

The Indy ½ refers to Carbon Motors, the upstart, Connersville, Ind., company that plans to develop a purpose-built police car and begin assembly in 2013. I’ll give it an additional ½ when its car is on the road.

The police car market is an unpredictable business. In good times, the combined market including all players is about 65,000 units annually. In weak economic times, like today, pick a number. It dramatically decreases. I’ve heard as much as 50 percent.

With tax revenue down, cop car purchases are not a high priority. “Send it to the garage and fix it fast” is more commonly heard these days. Purchases are being delayed until the next fiscal year -- and, in some cases, depending on the condition of the car, delayed another year.

If a department is given a choice between buying new cruisers and eliminating the positions of several deputies, the answer is a no-brainer.

And with tax revenues predicted to be depressed for years -- maybe a good portion of this decade -- expect a lot of old police cars to be on the road.