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Dealer-Based Upfitters

Written by Jennifer Gavigan

Upfitting police vehicles has become big business in the police fleet world. In the past, agencies used factory-based upfitters or local dealers/upfitters. However, now some major car dealerships are getting into the business of both fleet sales and upfitting aftermarket gear to police cars, either in-house or through subcontractors. What are the advantages of using these types of upfitters? Police Fleet Manager recently surveyed some of these major dealer-based upfitters to see what they are all about.

Thomas Dodge (Illinois)
15941 S. 94th Ave.
Orland Park, IL 60462
(708) 403-8801
www.dodgepolicecars.com

Thomas Dodge of Orland Park, located in south suburban Chicago, is a certified DaimlerChrysler Five Star dealership with a large inventory of high-quality new and pre-owned vehicles. Steve Kizaric, fleet sales manager, and Jim Kelly, upfitter, at Thomas Dodge are responsible for sending cars and trucks of all makes all over the United States, coast to coast and border to border, including Alaska.
Thomas Dodge upfits their police vehicles in a building separate from civilian car sales. Thomas Dodge and PDS Police Services typically upfit 500 cars a year. They upfit all makes of police car; in fact, half of PDS Police Services’ business come from makes other than Dodge.
They use Federal Signal, Code 3, and Whelen lights and sirens. Setina is their choice for prisoner partitions. For push bumpers, they prefer Go Rhino! When installing interior mounts or consoles, they use Lund or Havis-Shield.

According to Kizaric, Thomas Dodge does custom-make some parts for the upfit, such as brackets when necessary to make the part fit into the car. They do have recommended lighting packages, but they also go by customer request. The most common or “basic” upfit performed by Thomas Dodge is made up mostly of Code 3 products, including: MX 7000 light bar, 3892 LS6 siren light control, SL100 speaker, Lund console, headlights, wigwags, and spotlight. Some upfits also include prisoner partitions.

They occasionally use pull-out trunk trays, but these are usually aftermarket. However, they don’t upfit many Ford CVPIs, so there is no need to move the spare tire. They make their own wiring harnesses, and a wiring schematic is provided.

As far as documentation being provided with the upfit, Thomas Dodge gives the customer brochures or manuals on the equipment which come from the manufacturer or factory. They do not provide their own documentation. Thomas Dodge acts as a warranty/repair station for the upfitted gear, but only the major brands.

Kizaric believes using a major dealer-based upfitter such as Thomas Dodge is “easier and more readily available” than factory-based upfitters or local dealers and upfitters. Thomas Dodge prides itself on “getting it right the first time” so everything is correct when the police car leaves their building.

Warnock Fleet and Leasing (New Jersey)
175 Route 10
P.O. Box 524
East Hanover, NJ 07936
(877) KOP-KARS
www.warnockfleet.com

Warnock Fleet and Leasing is a major dealer on the East Coast and is migrating into the Midwest. Warnock offers complete vehicle upfits and builds quality emergency vehicles to meet the specific needs of their customers. As an emergency vehicle specialist, Warnock works closely with vehicle and equipment manufacturers. PFM spoke with Cori Roltsch, Fleet Manager, about Warnock’s upfitting business.

According to Roltsch, they prefer to use the “Warnock Fleet” title, as the division is a distinct business unit of their retail and commercial operations. They only service their municipal customers. Warnock sells Ford, Dodge, and Chevy police vehicles, and regularly works on and upfits off-brand vehicles brought in by their customers.
Warnock Fleet upfits 5,000 to 6,000 cars per year with a dedicated municipal upfit facility. Local subcontractors are used as delivery and warranty repair centers in the farther reaches of Warnock’s market area. Warnock covers Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware on a daily basis. Their fleet of car carriers (seven 9-car carriers) allows them to have national reach and easily service their home market area.

Warnock distributes 28 brands of emergency products for lights and sirens including: Whelen, Code 3 PSE, SoundOff, Federal Signal, SVP, 911 EP, and Able 2. Pro-Gard and Setina prisoner partitions are used as well. Warnock installs Manik, Go Rhino!, Setina, and Pro-Gard push bumpers. Interior mounts or consoles are supplied by Havis-Shields and Gamber Johnson from stock, all others by special order.

Brackets and mounts are regularly fabricated in the shop. Many, if not all products, are modified for the specific customer needs including complete electrical system design using the MNStar products. Every agency has unique demands and desires. Warnock takes pride in the ability to build custom units to meet the specific needs of their customers. Warnock stocks the most popular lighting equipment from Whelen, Code 3, and Federal Signal. From this inventory they can offer immediate fulfillment for a wide variety of product.

Every vehicle is built to the specific need of the customer from prep packages and change-overs to turn key units—every order is different. “It is our ability to respond to the specific needs of the customer that sets us apart from the manufacturers’ packages,” Roltsch said. Their most popular items include, particularly when full lighting packages are sold, the range of prep packages available from MNStar. These packages offer flexible power distribution and they allow the agency to ensure a high quality and timely installation of IT and communications equipment.

Warnock uses pull trunk trays on a regular basis from Pro-Gard, Havis-Shields, and Gamber Johnson. These components tend to offer more features at a lower price point than the trays offered by vehicle manufacturers. The trays come in all types and styles. If a trunk tray is used, there are four places to put the spare tire: factory location, on the tray, vertical in front of the tray, or in the garage. Warnock mechanics communicate with their customers to determine which location works best for their needs.

Warnock Fleet uses the full line of MNStar harnesses to meet the specific needs of customers be it the introductory level Installer series harness or the robust Enforcer series. The MNStar products allow Warnock’s upfitters to scale the electrical system to the customer’s budget, long-term needs, and specific fleet challenges. They have recently added MNStar Responder and Installer series to their out-of-stock product offerings—they have been offering the Enforcer from stock for several years.

In every unit, a detailed and color-coded wiring schematic is provided. All of the component and vehicle manufacturer warranty and installation instructions are provided with each unit as well. Warnock is a warranty or repair station for many brands. They offer warranty service for all of the products they sell.

Warnock’s core competency lies in designing fleet solutions for specific agency needs. It is the integration of many technologies covering new products and legacy equipment where Warnock offers the greatest value to the customer. Warnock Fleet is proud to build the IACP Technology Cars, and they use the opportunity this program presents to integrate the latest technologies with an officer-friendly and durable work environment.

Warnock is striving for continual improvement in their products and services with the ultimate goal of driving the market to provide a better overall product to their customers. They are constantly trying to build the best police cars and improve the functionality, durability, and serviceability of those units. Warnock regularly works with both the component manufacturers and the vehicle manufacturers to improve and develop new products.

“Warnock is a local dealer and upfitter with national reach and factory-based program resources to provide their customers a level of service and support that is unmatched by local shops,” Roltsch emphasized. Working in their market area allows Warnock to respond to the specific needs of their customers in a way that a factory-based upfitter, or ship-thru facility cannot.

Warnock’s personnel receive regular ongoing training to develop the best quality installation solutions, and Warnock encourages them to work directly with the customer while making decisions during the vehicle upfit process. This level of customer involvement, and flexible response to their needs, is not available from the vehicle manufacturers due to the nature of their corporate structures. Warnock’s resources and personnel dedicated to the law enforcement market equal or exceed the resources of any ship-thru upfitter.

As an operation committed to the long-term support of their customers, “Warnock’s resources for problem solving, equipment development, and installation solutions cannot be equaled by the smaller local installation shops,” Roltsch said.

Philpott Ford (Texas)
1400 US Highway 69
Nederland, TX 77627
(409) 727-1451
www.philpottmotors.com

Philpott Ford is a division of Philpott Motors, which has been in business since 1950. According to Richard Hyder, Inventory Control Manager for Fleet, Philpott upfits all of its vehicles in-house in its 20,000-square-foot assembly line facility. The company is on pace to produce 2,500 units this year. Although Philpott is a Ford dealer, they upfit and equip all makes. Generally, Philpott sends their upfitted police vehicles throughout Texas and the western United States. They have more than 2,500 different customers.

Whelen, Federal Signal, Code 3, and Tomar brands of light bars are used on any car coming out of Philpott’s garage. Various makes of strobes, LEDs, etc., may be installed. Whelen, Federal Signal, and Code 3 sirens are used. Philpott prefers Pro-Gard, Setina, and Patriot for prisoner partitions, and Pro-Gard, Go Rhino!, and Setina for push bumpers. Jotto Desk, Pro Copper, and Havis-Shields make up the interior mounts or consoles.

Wiring harnesses, various brackets, as well as any special request items ranging from storage boxes to mounting pieces are custom-made for the upfit. They have standard lighting packages, but Philpott finds that most customers want a specific configuration. “Approximately 80% of our installs are custom,” Hyder said.

Philpott’s most common upfit includes: Whelen lightbar, Whelen siren, speaker, Procopper console, Pro-Gard cage, Pro-Gard push bumper, switchbox, four-corner strobes, power supplies, radio to customer spec, and video system.

Philpott uses both after-market and custom-made pull-out trunk trays, usually aftermarket as specified by the customer. If a trunk tray is used on the Ford CVPI, for example, the spare is mounted straight up in the trunk well, on the right side.

Philpott is an MNStar dealer, but occasionally they build wiring looms per customer spec. They also provide a wiring schematic. Equipment warranty and operation manuals as well as instructions are all provided to the customer if necessary. Philpott is a warranty repair station for all major police equipment.

The main area in which Philpott believes it excels is in providing one-stop shopping. “We can help an end user spec a car from scratch or update their existing equipment. Either way, the car can be ordered completely road-ready including all equipment and graphics,” Hyder stated.

If Hyder were to emphasize one thing about Philpott’s upfitting business, it would be that for multiple custom rigouts, building a pilot car is essential. “We generally complete the first car and invite the end user to inspect and sign off on it before additional units are started. This way, we can make any necessary adjustments and the customer gets EXACTLY what they want,” Hyder said.

At the dealer level, rigouts can be much more flexible than the “cookie-cutter” factory wiring and equipment installs. In addition, Philpott’s volume and experience can, in many cases, allow for a higher quality/lower cost job than many of the local upfitters.

Texoma Ford (Texas)
215 Highway 75 North
Denison, TX 75020
(877) 359-7256
www.texomaford.com

Texoma Ford in Denison, TX does all of their upfitting in-house. According to Sales Manager Donnie Norman, on average, Texoma upfits 1000 vehicles in a year, including Ford, Chevrolet, and Dodge models. They send their upfitted cars anywhere in the United States.
Texoma uses the following brands of lights for an upfit: Whelen, Federal Signal, Tomar, 911EP, SoundOff, and Code 3. In addition, Whelen, Federal Signal, Tomar, Carson, and Code 3 sirens can be found on their vehicles. Many police cars include prisoner partitions, and Texoma installs Setina, Pro-Gard, and Tufloc brand partitions. Setina, Go Rhino!, and Pro-gard push bumpers are also used. Part of the upfit often includes interior mounts or consoles to fit all of the required police gear, and those come from Jotto Desk, Pro Copper, Havis-Shields, or Troy.

The only thing Texoma custom-makes for the upfit is a wiring harness. They have no recommended lighting package, but rather they combine customer requests with some of their own input. The most common upfit by Texoma features: Whelen or Federal Signal LED light bar with siren, push bumper, and cage.

Pull-out trunk trays can be found in many of Texoma’s upfitted vehicles, but they are not custom-made. Instead, Jotto Desk or Pro-Gard supplies them. In the Ford CVPI, the trunk tray stays in the same place, mounted to the left of the spare tire. Texoma custom-makes their own wiring harnesses, and a wiring schematic is included. In addition, all warranty literature from the manufacturer goes to the customer.

Texoma also acts as a warranty, or repair station, for all the major brands of products that are put into their cars. According to Norman, Texoma prides itself on stocking the vehicles and equipment with a much faster turn-around time and better quality of workmanship. Stability is Texoma’s major competency. “The little install shops seem to come and go and most are not master distributors for the major brands. They are merely dealers that do not have much buying power,” Norman said.

Norman believes there are many advantages to using a major dealer-based upfitter such as Texoma over factory-based or local upfitters. One benefit is having a larger selection of products in stock. Another plus is the huge buying power for great savings. “There is simply better experience on installs with better knowledge of the vehicle,” Norman stated.

Wondries Fleet Group (California)
1247 W. Main St.
Alhambra, CA 91830
(626) 380-1171
www.wondries.com

Wondries Fleet Group on the West Coast sends their upfitted police vehicles all over the state of California. According to Joe Connell, Fleet Manager, they do not do their upfitting in-house, but use a lot of different subcontractors. They do no more than 250 cars per year, but of those, they include the following makes of vehicles: Ford CVPI, Ford Expedition, Chevrolet Tahoe, Chevrolet Police Special Service, and Impala Police.

For an upfit, Code 3, Whelen, and Federal Signal lights are used. Code 3 sirens and Setina brand prisoner partitions are also installed. Wondries uses all kinds of push bumpers, such as Go Rhino! and Pro-Gard, but mostly Setina. Stewart or Havis-Shields is Wondries’ preferred interior mount, or console, for their police vehicles.

Wondries does not custom-make anything when upfitting a police vehicle, although they do go strictly by customer request when it comes to the lighting package. According to Connell, their most common upfit means simply adding push bumpers or “swapping them out.” They usually keep most other parts on the vehicle. Generally no trunk trays are used for the upfit, although Connell said from Crown North America (OEM) it is an option on some of the Ford vehicles. If a trunk tray were present, then the spare is typically put just beyond the trunk tray.

No special wiring harnesses or wiring schematics are included in Wondries’ upfit. OEM manuals or Ford documents are provided to the agency for documentation. Wondries is not a warranty or repair station for any of the upfitted gear. Wondries does not do a lot of upfits compared to other dealers. “We excel in sales; we can sell any police vehicle available,” Connell stated. However, he sees the advantage to local upfitters is their flexibility.

Jennifer Gavigan is the former associate editor for Police Fleet Manager. She may be reached at jengavigan@comcast.net.

Published in Police Fleet Manager, Jan/Feb 2006

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