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Update: GM’s Law Enforcement Product Council

Written by PFM Staff

The fall 2009 meeting of GM’s Law Enforcement Product Council (LEPC) was opened with a state-of-the-business update from Joyce Mattman, product director, GM Fleet & Commercial Operations. In the wake of the financial crisis, GM has gone from eight divisions down to four: Chevrolet, Cadillac, Buick and GMC. In the process, significant numbers of executives retired and a slow phase-down of the number of dealerships was implemented. The number of GM nameplates dropped from 70 to just 34 vehicles.

For a vehicle to survive in this business climate, let alone a new vehicle be introduced, it really has to hit the “bull’s-eye” and not just the outer rings. The concept Caprice PPV appears to have the engine selection, front seat room, rear seat room and trunk cargo space to do exactly that.

Caprice PPV

This LEPC meeting was unlike past meetings in that the police Impala and police Tahoe were not on the agenda to discuss. Normally, product upgrades are presented and service issues are discussed. Those product upgrades are either new features being incorporated into the vehicle or suggestions from the LEPC members for standard or optional equipment. In both cases, estimated costs and expected take-rates are discussed and incorporated into the business case.

In this case, the entire two-day LEPC meeting was dedicated to the “concept” Chevrolet Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle (PPV). Most of the LEPC members have been involved with the project since the first Holden Ride & Drive in 2005. The Caprice PPV is currently planned for production in late 2010 for release as a mid-year 2011 model. Dealer pricing should be available in the August timeframe.

The fall 2009 meeting served two purposes. First, it gave LEPC members a chance to see how far along the planned Caprice PPV has come. By the end of the LEPC meeting, three separate groups, separate voices, had been heard: the chiefs and sheriffs from the IACP convention, the patrol officers at the COPSWest convention, and the fleet managers that make up the LEPC.

The second purpose of the meeting was for the LEPC to work with GM platform engineers and project directors to blend all these (sometimes separate) voices into one action plan for the next phase, including possible changes. The Caprice PPV, as displayed, is a concept car, not a production car. The car is not expected to go into production until late 2010. On the other hand, with the financial crisis of mid-2009 in such recent memory, a solid business case must be made for any changes to the Caprice PPV.

Legendary Caprice

Dana Hammer, the new manager, Law Enforcement Vehicles, GM Fleet & Commercial Operations, did a detailed walk-around of the concept car. The 2011 Caprice PPV is a modern interpretation of the legendary 1994-1996 Caprice 9C1, easily the most popular police car ever made.

The “old” Caprice had a higher top speed than the police Mustang at the time; was as fast around a road racing course as the police Mustang; had far better brakes than the police Mustang; and, of course, had much more front seat room, rear seat room and trunk cargo space. It’s no wonder thousands of the Caprice sedans were refurbished with new drivetrains for a second police career after the car went out of production.

The proposed Caprice promises to have these same competitive advantages against today’s current police vehicles. The Dodge Charger is a better rounded, more capable police vehicle than the Mustang ever was. And so it is that the Charger is the apparent vehicle to beat. The new Caprice V8 is expected to rival the Charger V8 in terms of vehicle performance, and the V6 version of the Caprice is expected to rival the Charger V6 in terms of fuel economy. At 112 cubic feet of interior space, the Caprice PPV is actually larger than the 107cf Ford CVPI. In terms of front seat, rear seat and trunk space, the Caprice rivals the Crown Victoria.

Concept Revealed

The big Chevrolet sedan is based on the Holden Statesman and is planned to be built in Australia. Holden is a subsidiary of General Motors. The Statesman is a stretched version of the Holden Commodore upon which the Pontiac G8 is based.

The new Caprice PPV is not a rebadged Pontiac G8. Instead it has a longer wheelbase and is 8 inches longer overall. The extra wheelbase went mostly to the rear seat. This, in turn, allows more front seat travel and a larger degree of seat back recline, even with the prisoner partition. The new Chevrolet Caprice also has different and wider opening rear doors than the Pontiac G8.

In the first half-year of production, the Caprice PPV is scheduled to be powered by a 355 hp, 6.0L V8. It will also be E85-compatible and have Active Fuel Management (cylinder deactivation). The 6.0L V8 is planned to be coupled with GM’s 6-speed automatic. The 6-speed allows a better gear selection for low speed acceleration and two overdrive gear ratios for better fuel economy. For the 2012 model year, the Caprice PPV is expected to come standard with a V6.

The Caprice PPV has rear wheel drive and will come with StabiliTrak, GM’s electronic stability control. Like the Charger, the stability control on the Caprice PPV will default to the more restrictive retail setting with every key cycle. However, a push button will change it to the less restrictive, police-specific setting.

StabiliTrak cannot be turned off, but the parameters for engagement can be opened up to allow more aggressive driving before StabiliTrak engages. This partial disengagement of StabiliTrak deactivates traction control, which may be necessary to get out of deep snow or sand. For exactly those situations, a limited slip differential will probably be an option of the Caprice PPV.

Center Console: Work in Progress

The Caprice PPV concept car has a floor-mounted gear selector and a prototype, police-oriented center console developed by GM’s factory off-line upfitter, Kerr Industries. The LEPC and Chevrolet are working together to improve the center console area to accommodate police equipment.

Expect a floor-mounted gear selector. However, also expect Kerr Industries and other aftermarket upfitters to develop clever, officer-oriented, upfit-oriented and ergonomically-correct center consoles. Expect radio slots and orientation, cup holders, window switches and perhaps even the manual parking brake to be shuffled around or worked around.

One of the strategies Chevrolet is using to work around the center console is to enable a more heads-up control of emergency and communications devices. Chevrolet intends to design the retail radio to be removed, placed in the trunk and operated by redundant controls on the steering wheel.

Instead of hip-level, center console controls, Chevrolet is enabling upfitters to install a shoulder-level, in-dash touchpad computer screen. The touchpad can be connected to the trunk-mounted computer and can control a variety of vehicle-specific functions and upfitted-device functions. The goal for the dash-integrated or flush-mounted touch screen is simple: the larger, the better—and it has to be landscape oriented.

In many regards, moving center console controls upward is a better ergonomic solution and increases officer safety. Another option is stacking control heads or other console-mounted switchgear vertically in this same spot. A center console is not needed for police gear but some ergonomically sensible spot certainly is.

One of the keys to enabling the center-mounted touch screen is the change in front airbag deployment. The Impala, for example, is designated as a six-passenger vehicle. That means the center front seat passenger must be protected. Even if some versions of the Impala come with bucket seats, the car uses the same front passenger airbag. This airbag is designed to fold open and inflate sideways to protect the person in the center. This airbag zone greatly restricts upfit flexibility.

The Caprice PPV is designated as a five-passenger vehicle. That means the passenger side front airbag inflates in a narrow path to protect only the right side passenger. The narrower airbag deployment zone allows high, center-mounted devices like the touch screen. It is out of the deployment zone.

On the topic of airbags, the Caprice PPV will come standard with front seat only, side curtain airbags. This will allow rigid, full-width prisoner partitions. Single, longer, front and rear side curtain airbags will be optional. The Caprice PPV with front-only side curtain airbags will still meet all federal standards for rear seat occupant safety.

Big Alternator, Two Batteries

The Caprice PPV will come with a high output alternator equipped with idle-boost. Important for upfitters, the Caprice PPV has the same basic electrical architecture as the police Impala and the 2WD police Tahoe.

The Caprice PPV will come with two trunk-mounted batteries: a primary battery for engine cranking and vehicle electronics, and an auxiliary battery for all aftermarket accessories and upfitted devices. The primary and auxiliary batteries are on separate circuits and are controlled by an isolator, but both are charged by the engine alternator.

The auxiliary battery is designed to power all of the upfitted police gear from lightbars to computers, from ticket printers to license plate readers, from traffic radar to police communications. This is not a dual battery system like the 2WD police Tahoe. Instead it is a software-isolated, separate primary and auxiliary battery system.

The most obvious reason for the auxiliary battery is to provide power for upfit components. Install a universal wiring harness like the MNStar, connect it to the auxiliary battery and start the upfit. This is actually a fuel savings step. Idle-boost will not be needed as often to charge the depleted main battery. This software increases the engine speed from the standard idle (700 rpm), which uses 0.8 gallons of gas per hour, to the high idle (1,200 rpm), which uses 1.3 gallons of gas per hour.

How many times a week do police vehicles in your fleet need to be jump-started because some piece of upfitted police gear was left on? With the Caprice PPV, the auxiliary battery may be discharged by this parasitic draw, but the main battery will still be fully charged to crank the engine. Once the engine is running, the alternator will recharge the auxiliary battery.

Performance Brakes

As part of the development of the Caprice PPV, GM did performance testing at Grattan Raceway. Grattan is the two-mile long, 13-turn road course used by the Michigan State Police during its annual patrol vehicle evaluations. While plenty good enough for retail use Down Under, GM wanted to upgrade the 17-inch brakes-wheels-tires.

For more braking power, they are planning on 18-inch “corners,” which calls for a larger brake system and 18-inch wheels and tires to fit around the brakes. As for the brake pads, think 556 hp Cadillac CTS-V. The steel wheels and make of OE tire are still under development. A winter tire is expected to be developed at the same time, but will be aftermarket, not OE.

Upfitting the NextGen

An obvious concern for chiefs and fleet managers alike is the ability to carryover their large inventory of aftermarket components already used in the fleet, i.e., the upfit parts that don’t wear out, break or become obsolete. While new brackets will certainly need to be developed, the prisoner partitions and push bumpers from the Ford CVPI can be transferred to the Caprice PPV. Expect vehicle-specific prisoner partitions that will be more of a custom fit to the Caprice to be rapidly developed.

The trunk holds a full-size, 18-inch spare tire in the well under the flat load floor. Not counting the space below the flat load floor, the Caprice PPV has an 18.0 cf trunk. The original cargo volume of 18.9 cf was before the addition of the auxiliary battery. Since the batteries are in the trunk, the plans are for a lock cylinder in the deck lid.

Impala and Tahoe

From a product viewpoint, except for the new 6-speed in the 2WD Tahoe PPV and its more gas saving rear axle, neither the new Impala nor new Tahoe changed at all for 2010. From a service viewpoint, and to GM Fleet’s credit, no major service issues exist with either the police Impala or police Tahoe.

The Tahoe exactly as we know it will continue for “several” more years. The big SUVs, the police and special service Tahoe and the special service Suburban, are not going away. Rumors to the contrary are just plain wrong. At the height of fuel price increases, sales of the big SUVs did indeed drop. The trendy use of the big SUVs stopped. One of the GM assembly plants for the big SUVs closed.

However, the part of the market that needs instead of wants a big SUV remains. The Tahoe and Suburban will continue to be produced by the newly restructured General Motors. Half the GM nameplates were dropped during the reorganization. Tahoe and Suburban will remain indefinitely.

For 2010, the 2WD police Tahoe comes with a 6-speed automatic and a more fuel efficient rear gear ratio. The 6-speed has two overdrive gear ratios, and the new 3.08:1 rear gear is much higher than the previous 3.73 gear. As a result, the Tahoe now boasts EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 mpg City and 21 mpg Highway. Hard to believe, but this big SUV now rivals (or exceeds) the fuel economy of the Ford CVPI (14 mpg City/21 mpg Highway).

Likewise, the Impala, as we know it, will continue for “several” more years. There will be a couple of years overlap of the police Impala and the police Caprice.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2010

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