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Electric Police Vehicles

Written by Bill Siuru

Agencies are always looking at ways to save fuel. For example, the Denver Police are being asked to spend one hour out of their cars on foot or on a bicycle. The Connellsville, PA Police have converted an Impala police car to electric power. Taking one Crown Victoria out of service will save about $4,000 in fuel annually. When less maintenance requirements are factored in, savings could pay for an electric-powered substitute.

Most of law enforcement is well aware of electrically assisted bicycles, Segway Personal Transporters and T3 Mobility Vehicles. Some agencies are already using them to augment and replace patrolling on foot. There many other electric-powered vehicles available now that should be considered because they can replace a fuel guzzling, V-8-powered patrol car for some duties.

Low-Speed Vehicles

Police cars like the Crown Victoria and Dodge Charger can do a lot of things well. The same cop car that can carry an officer or two in air-conditioned comfort is ready for high-speed pursuit on the interstate and can take several perps off to jail. The penalty is high fuel consumption most of time just to have the capability for the rare hot pursuit. Also, long periods of idling a big V-8 waste much fuel.

While alternatives to traditional police vehicles like electric-powered ones may not make sense in most rural areas, they could make sense in congested urban areas or even in suburbs where traveling distances are not great and the area is not a hotbed of crime.

For example, virtually every campus police force and other similar security agency could get by with electric, low-speed vehicles (LSV) entirely. LSVs can do many jobs now done by regular cars and vans—administrative travel, traffic duty, K9 transport, victim assistance and even transporting prisoners between jail and court.

The GEM NEV is by far the best-selling LSV, or neighborhood electric vehicle (NEV), in the U.S. LSVs are limited to a top speed of 25 mph. Built by Global Electric Motors (a Chrysler subsidiary) in Fargo, ND, the GEM’s lead-acid batteries provides a range of about 30 miles between recharges. They are available in a variety of models. They can carry two, four or six passengers, plus extended length models are available.

Several law enforcement agencies and many security services have already purchased GEM NEVs. For example, the Temecula, CA Police use GEMs for crowd control during events in Old Town. Besides being quiet and fuel efficient, they allow a more low-key interaction with the public. Creature comforts like doors, heaters and defrosters are among the many options available.

If you want an NEV that looks more like a car, there is the Canadian-built Zenn. This three-door, two-passenger hatchback can be ordered with air-conditioning, power windows, leather seats and upgraded batteries that extend the range from 35 to 50 miles. Where permitted, the top speed can be increased to 35 mph.

Several LSVs are offered as four-door, passenger vans that carry four occupants. These typically come from China. Miles Electric Vehicles offers several versions of its Miles ZK40 passenger vans with ranges from 40 to 50 on their advanced sealed, lead-acid, AGM batteries. Heating / defrosting is standard with A/C available.

The Dymac Vehicle Group offers both a four-passenger minivan and a larger MPV van. The latter could make a good prisoner transport, sort a modern day version of the old “paddy wagon.” Indeed, Dymac is currently designing such a vehicle for the California State Department of Corrections. Dymac models are available with either standard DC motors or more powerful AC motors.

Tiger Truck offers a wide variety of LSVs, including those running on gasoline, E85 and batteries. The latter include four- and six-passenger Electric Tiger Star Vans.

The e-Ride EXV-4 Electric Transport Vehicle looks a bit like a shrunken Hummer. The macho-looking is designed for more demanding duty than most NEVs. The e-Ride can carry a half-ton load and rides on 215/75 R14 radial street-rated tires. A 16.5-hp DC motor is standard with a 35-hp, A/C motor is optional. Currently, e-Ride electric vehicles, which are manufactured in America, are used on college campuses, at airports, on military bases, in industrial parks, at motorsports venues, and by fire departments.

If you need an EV with a higher top speed, perhaps 40 mph, then there is Zap! Xebra. Having only three wheels means this is considered a motorcycle, not a LSV. The four-door sedan can carry four people up to 25 miles between charges. The UPS is using more than 40 Xebras for delivering packages.

Two-Wheel EVs

Electric scooters, which have almost motorcycle performance, could replace motorcycles in cities, for example, for traffic enforcement. The Vectrix, called the world’s first pure-performance, electric maxi-scooter, is more motorcycle than scooter. The Vectrix is powered by a brushless, DC, radial air-gap electric motor. The motor provides 28 hp peak and 5.1 hp continuous power.

The 510-pound Vectrix can accelerate from 0 to 50 mph in 6.8 seconds. Top speed is electrically limited to 60 mph, and the range is up to 88 miles in 25-mph urban driving, less at higher speeds, on its nickel metal hydride (NiMH) batteries. It can carry two people, it has a lightweight aluminum frame, front and rear disc brakes, and storage locations, including the ability to store a full-faced helmet under the seat.

Several police departments like Sacramento, CA; Providence, RI; New York; and London are pilot testing Vectrix maxi-scooters. Incidentally, the NYPD already uses 329 Piaggio electric scooters for patrolling parks, police street demonstrations and directing traffic. Vectrix plans to market a 120-mph, three-wheel super-scooter.

Brammo Motorsports’ Enertia electric motorcycle features a permanent magnet DC pancake motor cradled in the monocoque frame, down the spine of the chassis as low as possible. Directly in line with the rider’s vertical centerline, the motor output shaft drives the rear wheel directly through the chain to minimize noise and maximize efficiency without much of the mechanical losses inherent with gearboxes. Six Valence lithium-phosphate batteries are used. It has a top speed of over 50 mph, a range of 45 miles, and can accelerate from 0 to 30 mph in 3.8 seconds.

The Zero X is a serious off-road motorcycle with the performance of a traditional gasoline dirt bike, but without the noise, pollution and need for high-priced gasoline. With its 20-hp electric motor and second-generation lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries, the Zero X accelerates from 0 to 30 in under 2 seconds. The company says performance is similar to a 250 cc gasoline-powered off-road motorcycle.

Beyond LSVs and Electric Scooters

Highway-capable electric cars could be in future police fleets. Initially, they will be used, and indeed already are being tried, in other countries where gasoline is much more expensive. BMW, Volkswagen, Mercedes and others are about to introduce battery electric vehicles, not hybrids. For instance, the police in Kanagawa Prefecture in Japan have a Mitsubishi i MiEV on duty. Mitsubishi plans to market the i MiEV in the U.S. in a couple of years.

Battery electric vehicles are quiet, can be inexpensive to operate and are free of emissions. Provided they are well built, EVs are very durable. Electric motors are typically less troublesome and last longer compared to internal combustion engines. Maintenance is usually less expensive, but savings can be negated if batteries have to be replaced.

Electric-powered vehicles are at their best in moderate climates. For example, lead-acid batteries can lose about 20% of their capacity at 32 deg F and 50% at –22 deg F. Electric heating, air-conditioning and police electronic equipment can drastically reduce the range of an electric vehicle.

Bill D. Siuru Jr., PhD, is a retired USAF colonel. He currently is the technical editor for several publications—Diesel Progress, Green Car Journal, and Police and Security News. He has a Ph.D. in mechanical engineering. Highlights of his military career include a professor at West Point, commander of the research laboratory at the Air Force Academy and director of Engineering at Wright-Patterson AFB. He can be reached at billswriter11@verizon.net.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2009

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