Cleveland, Ohio – Police officers have described their jobs as 90% boredom, 10% sheer terror. Paraphrasing that, police pursuit vehicles spend 90% of their time on light duty and 10% pushed to extremes.
In a lot of ways, it’s a perfect duty cycle for hybrid-electric vehicles. Modern police cars are rolling data centers with massive power demands for communications and computer equipment, and hybrids offer more available electric power than standard cars. Police vehicles spend hours every day idling to generate that needed electricity and to be ready for immediate pursuit in cases of emergency.
So Ford, already the leading manufacturer of police pursuit vehicles, plans to offer a hybrid version of its Interceptor sedan in the coming months, pairing a 2L, 4-cylinder engine with electric motors and a lithium-ion battery.
Police departments in Los Angeles, California, and New York, New York, have ordered the hybrids in a bid to lower vehicle costs for those cities.
“Our mission to create safe and healthy communities in Los Angeles is achieved through sustainable approaches in community policing, and that includes embracing new technologies,” said Charlie Beck, Los Angeles Police Department Chief. “Patrol vehicles are a police officer’s office, and we expect them to not only be economically and environmentally efficient, but also an effective tool for fighting crime in major metropolitan areas.”
Ford estimates that eliminating idling fuel use will save departments about $4,000 per year – a number that add up quickly in large metropolitan fleets with hundreds of squad cars. However, there are tradeoffs.
Combined gasoline and electric power in the hybrid police car is 188hp, about half of the 365hp produced by the 3.5L twin-turbo V-6 also offered in the Interceptor. While 188hp should be enough for standard patrols, it might not be enough power for extreme situations such as high-speed chases.
Police departments have awarded the hybrid with “full pursuit capabilities” ratings, meaning it can handle long-running pursuits at different speeds and overcome obstacles such as curbs and flooded intersections. But in the past, officers have been wary of using vehicles that were only powerful enough to meet minimum standards.
Ford is billing the hybrid Interceptor as part of its $4.5 billion expansion of hybrid and electric vehicles, and the police vehicle could be a powerful symbol of that initiative if it succeeds. Ford’s marketing department has been pushing a no-compromises sales pitch with other green technologies. Aluminum panels on the F-150, for example, allow for higher tow ratings, not simply better fuel economy.
Similarly, if Ford can argue that a hybrid is powerful enough for police chases, it might be easier to pitch hybrid Mustangs or all-electric SUVs in the future.
The hybrid Interceptor goes into production in the second quarter and will be available for deliveries by the summer.
About the author: Robert Schoenberger is the editor of Today's Motor Vehicles and a contributor to Today's Medical Developments and Aerospace Manufacturing and Design. He has written about the automotive industry for more than 17 years at The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio; The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky; and The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi.