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UK’s National Association of Police Fleet Managers

Written by Roger Blaxall

The last 10 years has seen some major changes in UK policing—many of them obvious, and not all of them positive. That means, like in nearly all police departments, the ‘thin blue line’ is being stretched tighter than ever. That was the situation according to many police fleet managers interviewed at the 2014 Blue and Amber Light Fleet Exhibition—better known as the National Association of Police Fleet Managers convention.

“Survival of the fittest” would be an appropriate theme for the June 2014 event held in the Telford Exhibition Centre in the English Midlands with the familiar—albeit shrinking—mix of manufacturers and importers.

Since 2004, there has been a dramatic cull of manufacturers in the UK emergency services marketplace. Some, like MG Rover, simply went out of business. Others have withdrawn from the marketplace. Today, just two Japanese and one Korean manufacturers now join 11 automakers from Europe actively involved in police vehicle sales.

While German, French, Japanese, Swedish, Korean and British (in name only) machines form the mainstay of UK police fleets, upon closer examination, it is very much a case of German domination in sedans and French, German and Turkish manufacturers leading the way in light commercial sales. Of the Germans, two manufacturers —BMW and the VW Audi Group (representing Audi, SEAT, Skoda and VW)—are very much in the ascendant. Mercedes Benz is hoping to soon re-enter the lucrative market after a five-year absence.

French-manufactured cars and vans from Peugeot are holding their own thanks to a massive capital investment by parent group PSA Peugeot-Citroen. (Peugeot-Citroen is the second largest automaker in Europe.) The result is a swathe of new models including the 208, 308 and new Partner and Boxer ranges.

Korea’s Hyundai is continuing to grow its market share and is now a very significant player in a number of fleets, including the London Metropolitan Police and forces in the northwest counties of England. The Swedes? Volvo has also benefitted from massive investment by new Chinese owners, Geely.

The UK, finally, is represented by Ford, Vauxhall, Peugeot and Jaguar Land Rover. On the evidence of the 2014 NAPFM show, it is questionable just how long the latter—especially Jaguar—will be a force with which to be reckoned. There is one more ‘reborn’ British manufacturer that just might reveal its hand in the next year or so. Read on for more in an alphabetical roundup of this year’s show.

 

Audi

Police officers nationwide will soon be putting Audi’s impressive new Q5 to the test. The sports utility took pride of place on the company stand—and looks like a popular addition to Audi’s police fleet offerings. A 3.0L TDI 245ps SE Quattro STronic will soon be on trial by a number of forces whose feedback will be vital in gauging its viability. Audi has seen impressive year-on-year growth in the high-profile police marketplace after Mercedes Benz withdrew some five years ago.

The unique Quattro drivetrain and state-of-the-art diesel power are just two of the reasons forces nationwide use the cars in a variety of front-line covert and overt roles. Their police demonstrator has been fitted with 360-degree visibility discreet lighting and a siren for covert operational use. Audi, like all other manufacturers, play 999 sales close to their chest. However, perhaps 10 police forces in the UK are enthusiastic customers with both A4 and A6 models proving their worth in a variety of marked and unmarked road policing roles.

 

BMW

The biggest stand at the show? That honor belonged to BMW, which had a lot to exhibit in terms of new models and new concepts for the police. Everything from the diminutive new electric i3 to the mighty BMW X5 in a variety of guises were there with the latter one of the most popular fleet members with forces like Lancashire, where it is used in a number of front-line roles with utter reliability.

Lancashire Fleet Manager Chris Malkin said, “We fuel them, top them up with oil, and let them do what they are supposed to. They are excellent machines, and tailor-made for firearms and road policing roles.” BMW 3 and 5 series models remain popular for road policing. BMW’s MINI is making its mark in a small variety of ‘back office’ roles. One in particular is the MINI One D, a particular a stylish small hatchback with mini running costs and maximum street cred. BMW boasts it produces “the right vehicle for any situation.” It is hard to argue with that.

 

Ford

For many years, Ford has been a frontrunner in many UK 999 fleets. That dominance has been continually challenged by Vauxhall and most recently by Hyundai. With a new Mondeo and updated Focus waiting in the wings, Ford put the emphasis on its growing light commercial range for this year’s show. The Tourneo, Fiesta van and new Transit all sharing the spotlight. Most impressive was the latest addition to the Transit range, its huge 17-seater minibus, which in civilian specification, showed the potential of the newcomer.

 

Honda

It was a tale of two manufacturers in Expo Hall Two where Honda and Hyundai were next to each other. Ten years ago, Honda made the running with a number of cars in UK forces thanks to their manufacture in Swindon, Wiltshire County—the CRV, Civic and Accord were bought for their reliability, economy and longevity.

Now, the company offers just three models for 999 services, the new CRV with its brilliant 1.6L diesel engine, new diesel Civic with the same engine, and latest Accord tourer with the mighty 180 PS diesel power plant. Honda is now developing a brand-new range of three-cylinder high-power gasoline engines. It will be interesting if these new power plants filter through for use in police models.

 

Hyundai

The good news just keeps on coming from Hyundai. They are now an established player with their i20, i30 and i40 models all in diesel form. These are ‘force’s favorites’ with customers including The Met and in and around the NW of England with Cheshire, Lancashire, Merseyside and Greater Manchester County forces all convinced converts.

Police fleet sales specialist Gavin Thompson has been instrumental in promoting Hyundai, building up an excellent reputation for taking on board ‘bouquets and brickbats’ from fleet managers. That has seen stronger clutches engineered for the i30 estates (station wagon) and more robust door pulls for the same models—small but important changes in a car which performs consistently well on the front line.

Also in display was a Cambridgeshire County i40 tourer with 50,000 miles on the clock. Thompson indicted why Hyundai won’t be moving into Highways Agency and firearms roles dominated by machines like the BMW X5. Its Santa Fe simply doesn’t have the muscle to rival the 240 PS of the mighty German machine.

 

Jaguar - Land Rover

What will the future hold for Jaguar Land Rover? With just two vehicles on display, some think the company is in danger of pricing itself out of its traditional market. The Tata Motors (India) company will make its next big decision replacing the venerable Defender. The Discovery is being succeeded soon with a new sportier and no doubt more expensive model. Jaguar, too, is a pale reflection of what it used to be even 10 years ago. However, a new saloon (sedan) from Jaguar is in the works. This may rival the BMW 3 series, Mercedes Benz C Class, and Audi A4 models and might reassert its presence in the 999 market.

 

Mercedes Benz

Talking of Mercedes Benz, the company is now preparing to re-enter the UK 999 market with a number of models being examined by the UK Government Home Office for appropriate accreditation. It looks like the E class will be offered for road policing with the powerful diesel option while its commercial range still has a lot to offer with models including the Citan, Vito and new Sprinter.

 

Mitsubishi 

It has been 40 years since Mitsubishi (then known as the Colt Car Company) launched in the UK. Since then, its muscular Shogun range started to make its mark in Highway Agency fleets. That dominance is continuing today, the company wisely leaving changes to a minimum. The latest 3.2L diesel machines are cleaner and greener but also as roomy, reliable and capable as ever. Shoguns can run for up to 250,000 miles with regular servicing, never missing a beat for Highway Agency traffic officers on the front line. When they are disposed of, Mitsubishi’s purpose built emergency service facility simply strips out all the policing kits and then refurbishes and re-installs them in new models.

The other highlight on the company stand was its new Outlander PHEV, a purpose-built cross roader with a twist. Electric power from a generator run by a 2.0L gasoline engine makes it one of the greenest All-Wheel Drive models in the 999 marketplace. This is a compelling game changer for green thinking fleet managers.

 

MG Motors

MG Motors, as it is now known, has not committed to the police car market—yet. A sole MG6 is now serving with the West Midlands Fire Service. However, a police sales consultant visited the Longbridge, Birmingham factory recently as the company—now part of mega Sino outfit SAIC—contemplates openings with police and fire fleets. The biggest hurdle at the moment is its high C02 pollution figures although recent engineering changes to the MG6 diesel has lowered them somewhat, while the sporty MG3 looks like it would make a great urban police car.

Waiting in the wings is its CS sports utility, a first for MG and launching in 2015. SAIC also owns LDV and is re-building the old Maxus in updated form in a number of far eastern plants in Left Hand Drive and Right Hand Drive. Can it be a matter of time before the firm looks at re-entering the police personnel carrier and general-purpose van marketplace?

 

Peugeot

French company Peugeot still has substantial interests in the UK. Peugeot is literally ‘getting a grip’ on a section of police car sales thanks to the innovative Grip Control fitted on its 2008 and 3008 crossovers. A rolling DVD at their display stand showed the system in action on a snow dome and in real-world, off-road driving. The 2008 crossover showed an impressive grasp of most driving situations on mud, rain and snow that would hamper progress in a ‘normal’ model. Amazingly, grip control adds just $200 to the cost of a police car, which makes it a real ‘no brainer’ for police fleet managers.

The other newcomer was the Car of the Year, the Peugeot 308 hatchback, soon to be joined by a commodious estate (wagon) version with some very clever three-cylinder petrol and diesel engines. Two choices for covert policing were on display also: the feisty 208 GTi and the imposing 508 sedan, the pinnacle of the company’s UK range. Also taking a bow were latest versions of the Partner and Boxer van range.

 

SEAT - Skoda

SEAT has not really capitalized on the desirability of its UK model range in the UK with police fleets over the last few years. As the ‘sporty’ arm of the VW Audi family, models of interest to police fleet managers were the Leon range while its Alhambra MPV’s been in demand in a number of police transport ‘shuttle’ roles.

Skoda, though, is still very much making a play for police and paramedic fleet custom. On show was a new purpose-built Eibach-sprung suspension system for the latest Octavia Scout 4x4 model to cater for a higher payload. Its sports-orientated vRS range is also used by a number of forces for overt and covert road policing duties in hatch and estate variants.

 

VW

A promising new VW took a bow at the show, representing a ‘first’ for the company’s specialist marketing team. Highlight of its stand was an imposing Touareg concept for the Highways Agency whose vehicles are a familiar sight on UK motorways. Based on the accomplished 3.0L TDI, it has been tailored to exacting Highway Agency specification and finished in its striking livery markings.

VW Group’s Steven Cowell said, “The agency has some fairly specific requirements for their vehicles, which in turn has taken some development work on our behalf to get a vehicle built to its exacting specification. This includes the approval for some of the additional fitted equipment. It is not unknown for its officers to tow heavy trucks onto the motorway hard shoulder to keep the carriageway running smoothly. While the Touareg has a hefty 3.5-tonne towing capacity, we still had to develop a specific NATO-style tow bar with enough ‘pulling’ capacity for rapid recovery of heavy vehicles from the carriageway.”

 

Vauxhall

Big news from Vauxhall was just that—the new bigger Vivaro light van range. Over the last few years, the Vauxhall Vivaro has been a credible rival to the Ford Transit and now, for 2014, even more so. It made its debut in a number of versions. So while Vauxhall has lost out to rival Hyundai in the patrol car market, the new Vivaro could well take an even greater market share thanks to a comprehensive makeover, which makes it leaner, greener and more refined.

Meanwhile, the personnel carrier conversion of the Movano was one of the biggest vehicles on show, displayed with a full complement of police kit. Car-wise, the company showed latest version of the Corsa five-door Astra, along with the all-electric Ampera and the Insignia. The latter is now available in All-Wheel Drive and dubbed the Country Tourer.

 

Volvo

Volvo is still vying for attention in a number of overt and covert roles with the firm displaying a turnkey car. This was fresh from the Swedish police, which are built on a customized production line in Gothenburg. Unique features for police specification cars show just how well thought-out they are with a number of bespoke interior and exterior features. These include 17-inch alloys, bigger brakes, special speed-rated tires, stronger shock absorbers, unique harder wearing upholstery, and extra cup holders for covert use. On display too was a bespoke XC70 from the company’s Swedish police car production line.

 

Roger Blaxall is a former police officer with the Greater Manchester Police and the Lancashire Constabulary in North England. He now writes on the emergency services with particular reference to police vehicles for magazines in the U.S. and Europe.


Published in Law and Order, Aug 2014

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