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UK Police Fleet Conference
Written by Roger Blaxall
The United Kingdom’s National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) held its annual conference in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, about 100 miles west of London. In spite of the global economic crisis, automakers from all over the world displayed a wide variety of their vehicles most suitable for the UK’s 999 (enforcement) use. The 2009 NAPFM included a half-day of educational sessions and two days of the Expo. This included a large exhibit pavilion with many booths for static displays of products and services, and a massive outdoor display of hundreds of police-oriented vehicles.
“It takes one to catch one” was the eye-catching theme of the Jaguar stand where a police spec XFS diesel was cleverly positioned behind an XK sports convertible. It’s not an idle boast either. The XFS is a brilliant driving machine and rivals the best that BMW and Audi can offer. The new XJ range boasts a second generation aluminium body structure and class-leading diesel engines. However, it is goodbye to the X-TYPE, launched in 2001 with some very high hopes. It has been dropped as the Halewood production facility concentrates on building Land Rovers. Merseyside Police has just pensioned off its X-TYPE fleet—it was one of the very few forces to use the saloon versions in a variety of overt and covert roles.
Audi made a move for new 999 business with a varied display of its current range including the A4, A6 and the Q7 range. In a recent chat with a northern force fleet manager, he confirmed that A4 diesel Quattro saloons would soon replace the few Subarus in his fleet. It has not taken long for Audi to spot a gap in the market left by German rivals Mercedes Benz who pulled out a few years ago. Audi is majoring on models with diesel power and road gripping Quattro technology for emergency services work.
BMW revealed its new X1 and 5GT to fleet managers. The rationale behind the good-looking X1 is clear. However, some wondered if the 5GT was supposed to be a saloon, a sports coupe or an unhappy compromise between both and an SUV. Other cars on display included a neat 1 series and various renditions of current 3 and 5 saloons and Tourers and the newly revised 7 range alongside the X3 and X5 models.
Lexus and Toyota have undergone a radical change since the last show with both fleet divisions being merged. Pride of place went to the barnstorming ISF 250 which has just been bought by the Humberside force for its road policing unit. Many show-goers drooled over its looks. I have actually driven it too and was very impressed by its jaw-dropping performance figures, brilliant ride and handling, along with typical Lexus quality fit and finish in its cabin. It’s a Lexus all right, but not as we know it, and the fact that Humberside is the first force in the UK to opt for the car is a brave move. They won’t be the last.
The renaissance of Land Rover continues with some exciting new models and a solid green commitment that’s sure to find favor with many fleet managers. New at the show were the 2010 Range Rover and Discovery. The latter is being hailed as the best Land Rover to date with a range of powerful new Jaguar-engineered engines, subtle interior and exterior styling updates, and other technical improvements.
Also displayed was one of its special fleet of Defenders which are drafted into emergency situations as part of its SORT (Special Operations Response Team) a new focus in helping flood situations by the organization. And as forces consider downsizing, but still want the coveted Land Rover badge on their fleet, the new second generation Freelander is proving a logical choice as a replacement for the Discovery and other rivals from BMW. Roomier, better built and more economical, the latest model is now serving with Greater Manchester Police among others.
Ford launched a revised Transit Connect van and the mighty Focus RS super hatch, which has already caught the imagination of car enthusiasts all over Europe. Not quite as quick—but just as effective in covert and overt road policing roles—is the Focus ST range. Five door models have recently gone on motorway duty with the Warwickshire Police, which has the cars specially tuned for their demanding duty. With turbocharged power at the driver’s disposal, as well as performance su pension, this is a serious performance car ideal for frontline response work.
At last, a new, more powerful Volvo—just what the fleet manager ordered! It was only a matter of time before the makers of one of the UK’s favorite traffic patrol cars caught up with the likes of BMW, Audi and Vauxhall. The new twin turbo engined V70 D5, unveiled at the show, has an impressive zero to 60 mph time of 9 seconds, and also a much more refined drive.
Despite the rumors, gossip and innuendo in mid-2009, it was business as usual from GM UK Special Vehicles with the introduction of the new Astra, one of the highlights of the show. Once again the stage is set for a “battle royal” between Vauxhall and Ford at the heart of the policing market where the Astra and Focus will go head to head. Looking to the future of urban policing, GM is heavily invested in electric cars. The company’s Ampera model will travel about 35 miles without a recharge and has an introduction slated for early 2012. Whether it will be suited to the cut and thrust of police work is another story. The Insignia range is really setting the pace, outselling its arch rival, the Ford Mondeo. It looks absolutely brilliant in Tourer form where its handsome looks belie the fact that it’s a Vauxhall.
Chevrolet is building up a loyal following in the UK 999 fleets thanks to the success of the good-looking sports crossover, the Captiva. At the show was its rural beat model which comes with a choice of 2 liter diesel or 2.4 liter petrol engines—the former with intelligent all wheel drive. Saab had a lower profile at this year’s event with just one model on show, the new 9.3X, its latest sports utility offering. The company claims it’s a true all-rounder, its XWD system engineered to grip the road in all situations. It certainly looked the part with its higher ride height, integrated roof rails, and petrol or twin turbo diesel power.
Mitsubishi is a force to be reckoned with in the UK. This year saw the debut of a number of significant new cars. The cute iMiEV is an electric car and, from the sublime to the ridiculous, was joined by the latest Evo cars which are still very much an option for high profile road policing roles. Look out for an EST feature on how its models are made “fit for purpose” at its specialist fleet center in Cirencester soon. Evo “lite” is the best way to describe the new Lancer Sportback Ralliart range.
Among the models taking pride of place on the Peugeot stand were the latest 308 beat patrol cars, which can be ordered in hatch and estate form. Two engines are on offer, both brilliant HDi units. Standard kit includes a heavy duty power supply in addition to fittings of an additional power loom, CAN BUS interface, half “Battenberg” livery and emergency lighting control unit.
Skoda is on a roll at the moment. Its new Superb range has garnered plenty of awards from all over Europe, and its new Yeti will cement its reputation for producing good-looking cars with a dash of Czech style and inspiration. This new crossover model looks set to challenge the likes of the Nissan Qashqai, Ford Kuga and other rivals as a premium soft roader. The new model comes with a range of VW developed petrol and diesel engines and “switchable” all wheel drive transmission which kicks in when needed. Meanwhile, a range of updated vRS models including the Octavia hatch and estates was on display. The Octavia vRS estates have replaced Volvo and Fords as first response units in the Lancashire, Cheshire, Liverpool and Manchester areas.
Honda is still a serious contender in the UK 999 market, with its models well established in many and varied roles. Revised models including the Accord and Civic took pride of place at the show on a stand which was out of the limelight compared with previous years. Hybrid technology is very much to the fore with Honda, its Insight among the greenest offering at the show, while there’s a revised CRV in the offing.
VW has little to prove to fleet buyers. A new Polo and Golf range has reinforced its position as one of Europe’s most accomplished car brands. The “BlueMotion” range is of particular interest to fleet managers, with huge gains in economy at little extra expense in the Polo, Golf and Passat ranges. BlueMotion refers to the VW line of ultra-efficient engines. BlueMotion strategies focus on three areas of improvement.
The engine has revised engine controllers, diesel particulate filters and oxidizing catalytic converters to help the fuel consumption and lower NOx levels. The transmission has the last two gear ratios taller than on standard Turbocharged Direct Injection (TDI) engine gearboxes. Slick aerodynamics include a lowered suspension, redesigned spoilers and additional enhancements underneath each car, so the air is better channeled giving less drag, which produces better fuel consumption. A hard-working fleet car will pay back the extra cost in less than a year.
Citroen made its most serious play for the 999 market this year with the debut of its stunning new C5 V6 HDi among its 10 vehicles on show. The C5 range has had some very positive reviews in the motoring press, and the new top-of-the-line 240 hp diesel model is its most powerful “oil burner” to date. With the company looking for sales among greener fleet managers, the C5 was understandably popular with visitors. The C5 provides police forces with a high-performance, fuel-efficient vehicle with excellent road holding, good ride and high payload thanks to its unique Hydractive 3+ suspension with automatic ride height adjustment.
Like its Korean stablemate Kia, Hyundai has re-invented itself over the past year or so with its new range of “i” models which include the Indian built i10, the latest i20 and i30 cars. The Cambridgeshire Police, meanwhile, has bought a number of Sonata diesels as pool cars for senior officers. Big news on the sports utility front is the forthcoming range of Santa Fe models with more powerful diesel engines, lighter bodies and upgraded six-speed gearboxes, all helping to make the cars greener and more economical.
Roger Blaxall is a former police press 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 Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2010
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