DEARBORN, Mich. -- Ford Motor Co. wants to remain the top gun in the U.S. police car market with a new cruiser due out next year, but its competitors are in hot pursuit.
Ford revealed its new Police Interceptor sedan Friday. The car, based on the Ford Taurus, will replace the Crown Victoria-based cruiser at the end of 2011.
It's not a car for the faint of heart. The Police Interceptor has anti-stab plates built into the front seats to protect occupants from attacks, vinyl rear seats and floors that can be hosed down and available bulletproof doors. It's built to withstand a 75-mile-per-hour rear crash.
Ford, which sells 70 percent of all U.S. police cars, wants to retain its 15-year dominance in the market, which sees average sales of 50,000 vehicles per year.
"We don't take our leadership role lightly," Ford Americas President Mark Fields told a police gathering in Las Vegas, and media watching by satellite from the company's Dearborn headquarters. He said Ford has been developing the new squad car for two years with help from a police advisory panel.
Competition is growing. Chrysler's Dodge Charger-based police car grabbed 18 percent of sales last year, up from 14 percent in 2007. In reports to the California Police Chiefs Association, some officers preferred the aggressive looks, faster acceleration and handling of the Charger.
Later this year, General Motors Co. will relaunch the Chevrolet Caprice police car after a 15-year absence from the U.S. market. GM also sells a police car based on the Impala. Carbon Motors Corp., a new company based in Indiana, plans to build police cars to departments' exact specifications starting in 2012. Even the Toyota Prius hybrid has been modified for police work in Seattle and other cities.
Ford said the new cruiser will save taxpayers money because it gets 25 percent better fuel economy than the Crown Victoria, which gets 15 miles per gallon in the city and 23 on the highway.
Unlike the Crown Victoria, which has a 250-horsepower V-8 engine, the new Police Interceptor will have two V-6 options: a standard engine with 263 horsepower and one with EcoBoost technology that gets 363 horsepower. That will bring the Interceptor in the range of the Charger, whose 362-horsepower Hemi V-8 is now the most powerful in the segment.
Ford also hopes to stand out with exclusive features, like carved front seats to accommodate officers' holsters and rear doors that open 71 degrees -- 10 degrees wider than usual -- to make it easier to put people in the back.
The new Police Interceptor will come in front-wheel-drive or all-wheel-drive versions, a shift away from the rear-wheel-drive Crown Victoria. Ford anticipates complaints from some officers about that shift, but said it determined the new versions are more stable and predictable and less likely to fishtail. Ford also says younger officers are less familiar with rear-wheel-drive vehicles.
Lt. Keith Wilson, who tests cars for the Michigan State Police, said all-wheel-drive also will be helpful for departments in colder climates.
Wilson, who served on Ford's advisory panel, said most of his agency's 800 cars are Crown Victorias, but departments have to weigh the characteristics that are most important to them.
"Some urban agencies need a very maneuverable vehicle, and top speed is not as important. For others, fuel mileage may be more important than top speed," he said.