One of the largest state police departments in the US will purchase thousands of Australian-made Chevrolet Caprice Police Pursuit Vehicles if the Holden-based sedan wins a three-way shootout against rivals from Ford and Dodge.
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New York State Police (NYSP) has purchased 10 Caprice PPVs, 10 Ford Taurus-based Police Interceptors and 10 Dodge Charger Pursuits as part of a pilot program that will determine the vehicle that supersedes its ageing fleet of about 1200 Ford Crown Victoria sedans.

While small in comparison to the city-bound New York Police Department whose fleet comprises more than 8000 vehicles, the NYSP deal could result in an additional 600 Caprice sales per year for Holden, with vehicles replaced roughly every two years after completing upwards of 185,000km.

More than 5000 Chevrolet Caprice PPVs have been sold in the US since the first cars hit the street in May 2011 – significant volume given Holden has sold little more than half that number of regular Caprices in Australia over the same period.

NYSP Sergeant Harold A. Litardo and Lieutenant Philip H. Fouché told CarAdvice there were positives and negatives to all three cars.

At roughly $33,000, the Dodge is the cheapest of the trio. The Ford costs about $35,000 while the Chevy is the most expensive at $38,000. Being built in Australia, it also has a much longer lead time than the other two.

The Caprice V8 has marginally less power than high-performance versions of the Dodge and the Ford (265kW versus 276kW and 272kW respectively), but is more powerful than the others in base V6 form (224kW versus 218kW and 209kW). Both Caprice variants have a higher top speed and a shorter stopping distance than their rivals, and are the only ones equipped with eight airbags as standard.

The Charger (below) is criticised for its poor visibility, while the Caprice features a console-mounted gearshift lever that takes up valuable space in the cabin. That’s set to change shortly, however, with a new, less-obtrusive steering column-mounted shifter currently under development to match the other two. The Caprice also has the biggest boot.

Sgt Litardo, the man responsible for purchasing the fleet and distributing the vehicles, says the biggest differentiator – and potentially the deciding factor – is that the Ford is all-wheel drive while the Caprice and the Charger are rear-wheel drive (although an AWD Charger is on the way).

“[AWD] is desirable for us because we’re in the northeast and when we have bad weather we get a lot of snow and ice, so it helps in areas that aren’t ploughed or are getting a lot of snow in a short amount of time. That’s something that’s attractive to the agency,” Sgt Litardo said.

“Our members on the other hand, a lot of them like the freedom of … more power, and they’re just more comfortable in a rear-wheel-drive vehicle – that’s what they know. I also feel like they have more control of the car, even though [AWDs] are kind of fool proof.”

Lt Fouché, leader of the Traffic Incident Management Group, agrees that there are advantages to AWD but admits to having a soft spot for the Caprice’s power delivery and the familiarity of its rear-drive system.

“I think the agency was looking at the all-wheel drive as a solution to the inclement weather, but whether our field says that may be a completely different story,” Lt Fouché said.

“The guys are driving Crown Vics now. We train them and they drive for miles and miles on end with a rear-wheel-drive car, so I think in the field’s mind it would be a better transition to go with either the Dodge or this [the Caprice], and with the Dodge … the visibility is very, very difficult.

“But this car,” he said, motioning towards a Caprice on display at the New York auto show, “I love this car. I think it’s awesome.”

Lt Fouché says the final decision will be made by the men in the field rather than the agency, and denies that the Caprice’s higher purchase price will hurt its chances of being selected.

“If we end up choosing this [the Caprice] the price is probably going to be irrelevant because it suits our need,” he said.

“We would always focus on what our task is and what best serves our purpose and that should compensate for the difference in price. It’s a big difference but not where it’s going to be breaking the bank. Why go for a product that doesn’t work for us just because it’s cheaper?

“That’s why we run the pilot for several months, have them give us detailed information on what they did like, didn’t like, and once they’ve completed the survey we gather up all the data and we make a decision from there.

“I’m hoping that by end of summer (August) we will have selected our vehicle. When we do it, we will buy that vehicle. That’s it. Just like with the Crown Vic. Even though there were other vehicles, it will strictly be that vehicle.”

The Caprice was the first vehicle to enter NYSP’s pilot program. Ten Chargers have just entered the field, while the Fords are currently being upfitted with patrol equipment.

NYSP used to operate a fleet of Chevrolet Caprices years ago but switched to the Crown Victoria in the mid 90s when the Chevy was discontinued.

While many in the department have fond memories of the old Caprice, Lt Fouché says nostalgia will have no impact on today’s decision.

“I think all departments got excited when the Chevy came back, but it’s all about how it performs. That’s going to be the bottom line.”

A number of departments across the country have already made the switch to the Caprice PPV, including the Washington State Patrol, which will purchase up to 650 over the coming years, and the Kentucky State Police, which purchased 125 last July.