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The UK’s: Police Fleet Expo

Written by Roger Blaxall

A new venue, new dates, new delegates and some notable new exhibitors. Choosing a racecourse near Cheltenham, England for the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) annual meeting was an inspired move by the UK event organizers.

BMW

The big news on BMW’s stand was the launch of the company’s new turnkey “enabled” package: a production line installed specialist pre-emergency service role conversion. This was a clever move by BMW, which is steadily increasing its market share as its 3- and 5-series models, especially in diesel guise, are favored by more and more fleet managers who appreciate the cars solidity, build quality, driving characteristics and resale value five years down the line.

Merseyside Police displayed its new state-of-the-art 5-series Tourer, which has been on patrol in two policing districts as one of a new fleet to replace ageing Vauxhall Omega Tourers and Volvo estates. The 5-series’s smaller sibling, the 3-series, has recently gone on duty with forces like Lancashire Constabulary in the NW of England. The X5 sports utility is finding more and more friends in northern forces, including Greater Manchester, where a small fleet now patrols the Manchester motorway network.

Fiat

Fiat made a welcome return to the show after a prolonged absence with a diminutive Panda all-wheel drive on show, fresh from its duties in the Warwickshire Police Road Safety Speed Awareness Team. No news yet on its joint venture with Suzuki or whether the Sedici mini SUV will be trailed with any of the other emergency services. I tested its Suzuki SX4 stablemate recently and was impressed by its chunky looks, auto four-wheel drive system, comfortable cabin and overall fuel economy (in diesel form) of 40 mpg plus.

Ford

Ford was out in force. As usual, the company had one of the largest stands at the event, and for good reason. Last year was a busy one for the blue oval with its newly revised Focus, a new Fiesta range launched at the British International Motor Show, some exciting new high performance RS (rallye sport) cars in the offing, the debut of the classy Kuga crossover sports utility in police trim along with major refinements to the Mondeo range.

Ford still vies with Vauxhall for top spot in the UK police market. It is going to be another interesting year for the company with rivals like GM-Vauxhall’s new Insignia to contend with.

General Motors

It is not surprising that arch rivals General Motors, which brought several of its different English and U.S. brands together under one banner, were wisely placed at the opposite end of the exhibitors’ area from Ford. Like its competitor, Vauxhall had a busy year with the new Antara sports utility, which is unique in its class with the availability of a 3.2 V-6 power plant. This is now on stream and ready for 999 work.

The big news was the recent introduction of GM Europe’s latest big hitter, the Insignia range. This good looking Vectra replacement is available in a number of versions that will lend themselves to police work including a 4x4 saloon (sedan) and tourer, with powerful VXR variants to be announced for later in 2009.

Also on show were the “green” Ecoflex Corsas and Astras. The Astra is the best-selling police car in the UK. Additional vehicles displayed by Chevrolet, Cadillac and Saab completed the stand, the latter pioneering its eco role in the GM family with its “bio power” Saab 9.3 and 9.5 models.

Honda

Honda has grown into a serious player in the UK 999 market in recent years. There has been mixed news for its hybrid Civic IMA range, which has been defleeted by the Merseyside Police. It was simply not up to the demanding tasks at hand, however, the London Met are still running more than 80 of them.

The latest generation Accords, with serious development work on their diesels, are among the most refined oil burners in the UK marketplace. Various paramedic fleets still buy the semi-off-roader CR-V in serious numbers, while an all new Jazz—now made wholly in China—will be trailed by the firm over coming months for target markets including community support work.

Hyundai

Several new models joined the growing Hyundai range. Its i10, newly announced i20 and i30 could prove a force to be reckoned with. One very interesting ‘i’ model on display was the new i800 super size multi-purpose vehicle. The Tucson junior SUV is now available in two-wheel drive version. All police specification Hyundais share a class-leading five-year warranty as standard.

Jaguar

Now owned by Tata Motors in India, the Jaguar is still built near Coventry, UK. The company had lots to be positive about, not the least of which is the retail success of its new XF. Also successful is the newly revised 2008 X Type, with its 2.2 Ford-sourced engine, which has been specifically re-engineered for the “baby Jag.” We are still waiting on a price for a police specification XF Jaguar, a direct competitor to the BMW saloons. The XF should do much to restore its tarnished image in the police fleet market after the distinct lack of success with the S-TYPE.

Land Rover

Land Rover has long been the default choice of many fleet managers for motorway and rural policing. However, there is a downside. One Northern force bought 4.4L petrol engined Range Rovers a few years ago for motorway patrol duty and paid fuel costs of $2,400 a month per model. This helps explain why the big Rangies have been replaced by the Land Rover Discovery. And the Range Rover supercharged models are now seldom seen.

Land Rover still has a niche SVO (special vehicle operations) department, which can tap into the company’s legendary LR expertise to produce specially armored Range Rovers down the production lines at Solihull. Nowadays, it is the Discovery models that are setting the pace, making a good account of themselves in police motorway roles and Highway Agency Traffic Officer (HATO) fleets.

The revised Defender with its new Ford-sourced engine is still a no-brainer for many specialist operational needs, where its muscle has been tamed by the added refinement of the latest 2.5 turbo diesel engine from the Transit light commercial. A new green version of the best-selling Freelander was on hand, now deservedly one of the best-selling sports utility vehicles in Europe.

Lexus

Lexus was quick to establish itself in the forefront of the green movement. Fleet managers can make their fleet more environmentally efficient with the Lexus hybrid range of cars, including the LS600, GS450 and RX400. This means it’s reaping the benefits over rivals with either thirsty petrol engines or dirtier diesel power plants.

Lexus’ new high-powered IS250 V-8 is being mentioned in the same breath as the esteemed BMW M3-series and the AMG-tuned Mercedes C class. It’s the first super saloon from Lexus and looks like it will capture some small but significant sales for covert road policing duties.

Mazda

The Mazda vehicles are among the most reliable on sale in Europe with superior “whole life” costs, which are one of the factors that appeal to hard-headed Brit fleet managers. But there’s more to Mazda than just plain old reliability as cars like the charismatic 3MPS (Mazda Performance System) proved. That, along with the charming 2 range—the first serious assault by Mazda on the lucrative Police Community Support Officer vehicle market—made up a seven strong stand at Cheltenham. It was good to see the company there.

MINI

The MINI Cooper has come out from under the shadows of BMW and is now rightly seen as a credible “stand-alone” brand. It’s refreshing to see how the firm has marketed its latest range of diesel powered cars that carry no additional premium for their green friendly fuel efficiency, unlike rivals from Ford, Vauxhall and VW.

Mitsubishi

Capital news from Mitsubishi is that its Shogun range is now becoming more and more popular in demanding motorway roles with the London Met, which recently ordered more than 60 to replace Land Rover Discoveries and Range Rovers. The same models have also become part and parcel of the high-profile HATO fleet across the UK. Recently, MIRA, the UK’s Motor Industry Research Association (leading experts in vehicle design and development), tested armored Shoguns for use in a variety of security roles in the city of London and Met police.

Meanwhile, last year’s floods across large parts of the UK led to a rethink on first-line response—resulting in Mitsubishi L200’s now on standby to meet the demands of emergency response management at a regional level in Worcestershire in the English Midlands.

Its recently introduced Outlander sports utility has been enthusiastically received by many forces who admire its build quality, frugal diesel engines, low “carbon footprint” and ease of conversion in a variety of roles. Lancashire Constabulary is just one of the forces that has been won over by its responsive diesel engine performance in the cost-effective base “Equippe” trim.

Nissan

Nissan’s new Qashqai might have a strange name, but it’s perfectly in tune with many police fleet managers who need for a truly flexible multi-functional vehicle with the option of petrol and diesel power, on demand all-wheel drive and now a seven-seat configuration. Nissan’s extensive collaboration with Renault means it can draw on some excellent diesel power units, which are refined, economical and responsive for the sports crossover range.

Peugeot

Peugeot claimed it would be an exciting show for the company, and that was no exaggeration. Pride of place among the 10 vehicles on show was the latest version of the midsize 308 estate (wagon). Its best-in-class boot (trunk) capacity is ideal for conversion as a dog unit vehicle. Its PSVO “one stop shop” that opened in 2004 prides itself in offering specially trained technicians dedicated to Peugeot vehicles who have access to the latest technical information from the company.

Proton

Thrust into the limelight after its decision to launch a range of EcoLogic cars based on the new Persona saloon, Proton seems to have the right cars at the right time for many police fleet applications. Key to the company’s success will be the standard availability of LPG power, which is currently half the price of petrol, with little loss in economy and overall engine efficiency.

Humberside Police pioneered the role of LPG in police cars about 10 years ago, and its foresight is commendable in light of high fuel price rises. Proton claim that switching to the greener fuel means only a slight loss in power and economy but massive costs savings each year.

Renault

Renault is not having the best of time in the UK retail market at the moment, with the Laguna particularly poorly received. That said, Renault is bullish about its prospects for its latest “ECO2” green program, which encompasses cars like the Clio and Megane. However, to date, there is no news on the introduction of the Romanian-built Dacia range to the UK, which would offer fleet managers a back-to-basics police vehicle in saloon and estate form.

SEAT

SEAT says its fleet is both leaner and greener for 2009. To prove it, the company displayed models from its latest Ecomotive range, including the Leon, Ibiza and Alhambra along with the good looking Altea Freetrack with its intelligent four-wheel drive and feisty 140 PS diesel engine. There’s no more news on plans regarding its bespoke Alhambra V-6, which is specially built for the UK market to undertake ARV duties.

Skoda

Big news from Skoda was the new Superb. Its top-of-the-range model took pride of place on the company’s stand and looks poised to build on the success of its predecessor, which took Skoda to new heights a few years ago. The latest model has already made its mark with its patented “twindoor,” which combines a rear boot and hatchback in one. It’s now understandably been patented by the firm.

New engine options include a 1.4 TSI, which Skoda claims is not too small for such a large car. For the first time, an all-wheel drive variant will be available. Skoda is also launching a Greenline economy model, which will stretch the frugality of the acclaimed TDI engines just that little bit further. Look out, too, for a Superb estate—the first ever—by 2010. Also on show was the capable Octavia Scout 4x4 estate along with a selection of Octavia, Fabia and Roomster models.

Subaru

Subaru has built up a reputation over the past few years for its extreme high performance cars, and this year’s show was no exception with the new Impreza range out in force. But there has been another major change at Subaru with the first boxer diesel engines now available in a selection of models including the Outback and Legacy Tourer.

It’s not taken the motoring press long to appreciate the merits of the unique power plants, and they have been fulsome in their praise for the engines refinement, economy and performance. Subaru is now readying a fleet of demonstrators to show emergency service managers just how good the new models are.

Toyota

Over the past few years, Toyota has shared a stand with its Lexus brand, but this year it reverted to a stand-alone display to show off its range of cars, including the Corolla, Avensis, Rav 4 and Land Cruisers. With its heavy investment in Britain—engines are made in North Wales and cars near Derby in the East Midlands—fleet managers can buy the Japanese brand with a clear conscience while its new D4D state-of-the-art diesel engines are among the cleanest offered in the UK.

Volkswagen

VW is having a good year in the UK and has one of the most extensive model ranges of any importers. Its car range is represented in emergency services guise by the Golf and Passat, which are among the latest to receive an economy makeover with the new Bluemotion range.

A recent report in a leading British car magazine claimed it could take up to five years for an average driver to claw back the higher initial purchase price for a “green” VW, despite its superior fuel economy. That time scale should reduce appreciably if the cars are run in high-mileage police fleets.

To date, the Polo, Golf and Passat ranges are all available in with as Bluemotion models and can be as much as 10% more economical in real-world driving. On display at NAPFM were the Bluemotion Golf, which will soon be even cleaner as the magic 100g bar is breached. Passats in marked and covert form are now run by Tayside Police and Cambridgeshire Fire Service.

Volvo

Ten years after its dramatic entrance into the police fleet big time, Volvo is still capable of making the headlines. This year was the first chance many had to examine its new XC60 sports utility in detail. With Land Rover now out of the Ford’s select Premier Automotive Group, many see the new model as an obvious Freelander rival. True to form, this new Volvo had safety running through it from top to toe.

Also on show was the new 2009 model year V70 estate, now available straight off the production line in Gothenburg ready for duty after extensive consultations with UK police fleet managers. No news yet on a higher powered diesel engine for the range that some police fleet managers have been demanding for the past year or so.

With Ford retaining the brand after the high-profile disposal of Jaguar and Land Rover, it will be interesting to see if the company responds to market demands and produces an engine to rival cars like the BMW 5-series with its class-leading power plants.

Roger Blaxall is a former press and public relations officer with Greater Manchester Police and the Lancashire Constabulary. He specializes in writing about police vehicles for Hendon Publishing and a number of UK emergency services magazines. He can be reached at rogertblaxall@hotmail.com.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jul/Aug 2009

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