DETROIT – The police car you see on the roadside – or in your rearview mirror, if luck’s not on your side – might not look like you expected.
The sporty upstart Dodge Charger is aiming to challenge the Ford Crown Victoria as chief of police cars. Chrysler LLC’s full-size model that debuted in 2006 is no immediate threat to the Crown Vic or Chevrolet Impala, the market’s other major player, but the Charger is gaining momentum in a market that sells 75,000 vehicles a year as national tests cite its speed and handling.
“We’ve been steadily gaining market share and acceptance for the police vehicle since its inception,” said Chrysler LLC spokeswoman Shawn Morgan. “We see that trend continuing.”
It’s a small dent in the automotive industry, which expects to sell about 16 million cars this year. But it’s an important niche for automakers because it gives them a chance to put their products to the test when life – or at least the law – is on the line.
“That vehicle has to accommodate a bunch of requirements – it’s an officer’s first-aid station, comfort area for accident victims, command post for a crime scene. Next thing you know it’s involved in a high-speed run, responding to a heart attack, chasing a criminal,” said Lt. David Halliday, who leads the Michigan State Police’s annual police vehicle tests that serve as a national standard for law enforcement.
“We really ask (the automakers) to do an enduring duty for the public that’s often underestimated.”
Automakers don’t break out data for sales to law enforcement agencies, but overall sales for the full-size Charger were 97,833, up 1.5 percent for the first 10 months of 2007 compared with last year. The Crown Victoria’s sales were 51,286, down 7.2 percent during the same period. The Impala’s total sales through October were 270,504, up 12.6 percent, according to Autodata Corp.
John Felice, Ford Motor Co.’s director of North American fleet operations, said the decline is due to a drop in retail sales, which accounts for a small percentage of the Crown Victoria’s sales. He said Ford forecasts flat sales this year for police cars and controls about 80 percent of the market.