words - Joshua Dowling
The 'Police Caprice' will take on 'Interceptor' version of Taurus next year

This police car may not ever see Australian roads but it is about to become Holden's biggest rival for the next few years.

It's the new Ford Taurus Interceptor, a vehicle that has been designed to replace the aging Ford Crown Victoria that has dominated North American police fleets for the past 15 years.

It's the vehicle that the Holden Caprice will be going up against from 2011 in the massive North American police car business, said to be worth between 70,000 and 90,000 sales a year -- almost double the number of Commodores made locally.

If successful, this would make the North American police-car market Holden's single biggest customer by a considerable margin.

The Police Caprice also has the potential to further secure local production of Commodore and Statesman models as Holden fills the void left by a decline in exports to the Middle East.

At an international police conference in Denver in October last year, General Motors unveiled a Chevrolet version of the Caprice with significant modifications for police work.

The then-boss of Holden, Alan Batey, was there to unveil the car and meet with key police agencies to gain feedback on the Police Caprice, which is due on US roads by the end of 2010 or early 2011.

This will give Holden a crucial 12-month head-start on the Ford Taurus Interceptor, because that car is not due to go into production until late 2011 -- as the Crown Victoria is phased out.

Ford executives in North America must be at least a little worried about the Police Caprice from Down Under, because they have been highlighting the manufacturing location of the Taurus Interceptor (which will be made in Chicago), ever since the Police Caprice came to light.

Less than 24 hours after the Police Caprice was unveiled, in a speech to the media and police fleet representatives, a Ford executive emphasised that the replacement to the Crown Victoria would be "made right here in North America".

In the statement issued this week, Mark Fields, Ford president of The Americas is quoted as saying: "Police nationwide asked for a new kind of weapon in the battle for public safety, and Ford is answering the call with a purpose-built vehicle -- engineered and built in America."

Despite the recent speculation about the future of the locally-made Falcon and whether or not it and the Taurus will ultimately become the same vehicle, Ford says we won't see this car in Australia.

Ford Australia spokeswoman Sinead McAlary told the Carsales Network: "The Interceptor was developed specifically for police in the USA and has no ties to us at all at present or in the future."

The Taurus Interceptor concept car is loaded with technology from the Ford world, including blind spot warning, a rear camera, and a system called Cross Traffic Alert that senses oncoming traffic when slowly backing out of a parking spot.

The Taurus Interceptor also has stability control and curtain airbags, long overdue safety features, given the number of high speed pursuits police are involved in.

But police in North America will also need to brace for some other significant changes to their favourite Ford police car.

For starters, the V8 is gone, replaced with V6 engines that Ford says have the same or more power than the old V8 -- but which are up to 25 per cent more fuel efficient.

The trusty old rear-drive Ford V8 Crown Victoria has been replaced by a choice of two types of Taurus Interceptor: a front-drive, non-turbo V6 for general duties or detective work, and an all-wheel-drive twin-turbo V6 for urgent response and highway patrol vehicles.

To meet the rigors of police work, the Taurus Interceptor has bigger brakes, 18-inch wheels with large slots for cooling, a heavy-duty alternator and larger radiator.

Similar changes are being carried out by Holden to make the Police Caprice ready for duty. As with Ford, GM has an engineering division solely dedicated to police vehicle testing and modifications.

What's not known is whether Holden will modify the Caprice to meet a 75mph (120km/h) rear-end crash test.

Ford says the Taurus Interceptor passes this test even though it is not a police requirement.

The test was introduced after a number of firey crashes involving Crown Victorias in the late 1990s, when other vehicles had crashed into the back of police cars stopped at crash scenes. It turned out that the fire was usually sparked by poorly fitted police equipment which, in some cases, had pierced or been screwed into the fuel tank.

Meanwhile, Ford says it changed 90 per cent of the Taurus Interceptor interior to meet police needs. The front seats each have a flatter, lower cushion to accommodate officer gun and ancillary belts, and the front seat backs have an "anti-stab" metal plate in them.

The rear seats are specially sculpted and set back to improve second-row space and maximize legroom. The back door hinges are modified to open up another 10 degrees versus traditional rear doors.

The Holden Caprice, too, will also have special front seats designed to accommodate guns, and the centre console between the seats is being modified to make way for an optional gun rack. A rear seat with special indents for people wearing handcuffs is also being developed.

Finally, Ford made two other crucial changes to the Interceptor version of the Taurus. It fitted a column shift auto lever to accommodate police hardware between the seats, and the company says its 'Ford SYNC' hands-free information system has the potential to be customised to work specifically with police equipment.

Holden is yet to announce whether or not it will build a column shift kit for the Police Caprice. Although it sounds like a simple conversion it is apparently a costly and time-consuming engineering exercise.

Ford's comments on its Ford SYNC hands free display are possibly a reaction to the Australian-designed, A4-sized, vertical touch screen that was integrated into the centre stack of the Pontiac G8 LAPD demonstration car shown at the Denver police conference last October.

The touch screen, which is still in an experimental phase, could eliminate a lot of the clutter of police equipment between the front seats -- and make the regular Caprice automatic shift lever less of an issue for police agencies.

But both changes -- the touch screen or the column shift -- require significant engineering investment.

Now that Holden appears to have triggered Ford of North America into more aggressive action with its police car replacement program, Holden won't say which option it prefers. And nor are we likely to find out any time soon.

To find out how the Caprice and the Taurus size up, we crunched some numbers (and included the Crown Victoria for a reference).

What we found was that the Police Caprice has more power than the Ford Taurus Interceptor in both engine guises, a longer wheelbase (which should equate to more room between the front and rear seats) and a tighter turning circle (better low speed manouvreability). The Caprice is slightly longer overall (7mm difference) and has a slightly smaller boot (9 litres difference).

Ford Taurus Interceptor (general duties version)
Engine: 3.5-litre V6 195kW and 340Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto and front-wheel-drive
Overall length: 5153mm
Wheelbase: 2867mm
Width: 1935mm
Boot space: 569 litres
Turning circle: 12.1 metres

Ford Taurus Interceptor (highway patrol version)
Engine: Twin-turbo 3.5-litre V6 270kW and 470Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto and all-wheel-drive
Overall length: 5153mm
Wheelbase: 2867mm
Width: 1935mm
Boot space: 569 litres
Turning circle: 12.1 metres

Holden Caprice (general duties version)
Engine: 3.6-litre V6 210kW and 350Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto and rear drive
Overall length: 5160mm
Wheelbase: 3009mm
Width: 1899mm
Boot space: 560 litres
Turning circle: 11.6 metres

Holden Caprice (highway patrol version)
Engine: 6.0-litre V8 260kW and 517Nm
Transmission: Six-speed auto and rear drive
Overall length: 5160mm
Wheelbase: 3009mm
Width: 1899mm
Boot space: 560 litres
Turning circle: 11.6 metres

Ford Crown Victoria (interceptor version)
Engine: 4.6-litre V8 190kW and 370Nm
Transmission: Four-speed auto and rear-drive
Overall length: 5385mm
Wheelbase: 2913mm
Width: 1963mm
Boot space: 583 litres
Turning circle: 12.2 metres

Introduced in 1992, the current generation Crown Victoria was withdrawn from sale to the public in North America in 2007.

Since 2008 it has only been available to police fleets. Ford says it will continue to build the Crown Victoria until the Taurus Interceptor goes into production in late 2011, to ensure a seamless transition between the two models.

Ford has also announced it will add a second Police Interceptor to its North American lineup, based on an SUV. The company says details will be released in the third quarter of this year.

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Published : Tuesday, 16 March 2010
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