The British police fleet market is unique in Europe for one simple reason — it is open to a multiplicity of manufacturers who have a level playing field to procure police business in the 56 United Kingdom police forces and other 999 agencies. That means competition is fierce as manufacturers from the UK, Europe, and Japan tender for the contracts to replace the estimated 4,500 police vehicles that are renewed on an annual basis.
Police fleet managers and officers from the various 999 services opened boots and bonnets, assessed headroom, tried the seats, mulled over performance figures and hammered out prices at this, the largest motor show you’ve never heard of, the
National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM) held at the Wroughton Airfield near Swindon, Wiltshire, England.
Once an informal gathering of police fleet managers and a few manufacturers, it is now seen as the place to do police vehicle business - last year alone some 40 firms were left queuing for exhibition space with organizer Mike Cripps and his team from the Wiltshire Constabulary amazed by its continued growth.
The theme for the show, Police Transport for the Future, was an apt one considering the growing constraints that many fleet managers are under as environmental, economic and safety considerations very much dictate the size and make up of their fleets.
The event runs in tandem with a two day session of seminars were the great and the good of the police fleet business sit down to discuss various points of view. Last year’s keynote speaker was Professor Garel Rhys from Cardiff University in Wales, a leading pundit on the UK motor industry.
Away from the conference hall, the big talking point was whether the British government Home Office—which dictates the terms and conditions under which police cars can operate—would bite the bullet and decide whether the time has come to specify just three or four manufacturers to supply the vast majority of cars to police fleets for liveried roles. It’s a discussion that could severely affect some UK manufacturers who rely on police fleet business, and it all has to do with the Government dictate that value for money must be at the forefront of all decision making.
So, serious business then—but for the time being manufacturers can rest easy. Despite rumors to the contrary, no suppliers lists were drawn up and for the Minister who must make the final decision it’ll be a tough call with manufacturers from the UK, Europe, and Japan offering a range of vehicles that are ideal for use in the British police fleet marketplace.
Of course, although the focus is on cars, bikes, and light commercials, there are many more suppliers present who market everything from vehicle telematics to livery, armor, communications equipment, maintenance facilities — the list covers everything concerned with the purchase, equipping and final disposal of vehicles, usually at specialist auctions held up and down the UK.
As usual, Ford was out in force at the show. With 45% of the market, it is the largest supplier to UK police fleets, boasting the UK’s best selling police car, the Focus with its Special Vehicle Preparation department able to take any model from its current range and modify it to police specification.
The company chose the show to preview a number of new concepts including its C Max mini MPV, new Transit Connect light commercial and the Mondeo ST 220, which is good for 140 mph plus.
Ford, under the Premier Automotive Group umbrella, also boast a number of blue chip names in the UK police fleet market including Land Rover and Jaguar along with Swedish manufacturer Volvo.
Both Jaguar and Land Rover have seen a dramatic transformation with Ford’s massive capital investment. Their renaissance is gathering momentum with increasing orders for the new Range Rover in 4.4 liter petrol guise which despite only returning around 13 miles to the UK gallon is still seen by many officers as the definitive motorway patrol vehicle.
Jaguar, too, is back in favor with many fleet managers with Merseyside in NW England now running seven X type three liter, four wheel drive models on intercity duty between Liverpool and the outskirts of Manchester.
Vauxhall and Peugeot are vying for the number two spot in the UK marketplace. Vauxhall, part of General Motors has re-invented itself over the last few years with cars like the new Vectra, a mid sized saloon and estate range with a choice of engines up to 3.2 liters; the Astra, a mainstay of urban patrol work and its mini MPV, the Zafira.
One new model, which made its debut at the show, was the daring Signum, which boasts a huge interior and the option of a potent three-liter diesel engine. Vauxhall’s expertise in light commercials has not gone unnoticed either and the Vivaro range features a number of interesting derivatives all of which are ideal as general purpose vans for inner city work or personnel carriers.
Peugeot has a foothold in many Metropolitan fleets with its stylish 307 hatchbacks and range of light commercials. They might look good but a number of fleet managers were rumored to be unhappy at the interiors’ lack the resilience to cope with the demands of police work when cars can be on patrol literally 24/7 with breaks for fuel the only time they are rested.
Big news at the show was the fact that the 407 is on the horizon although the company which is based in the English Midlands chose not to preview the car a good six months before its launch.
Major European manufacturers at the show were all bullish about their prospects. BMW and Mercedes both boast a high profile in a number of forces with the Metropolitan Police in London acquiring five series diesel powered saloons for armed response vehicles. Its motorbikes, however, are not as popular as they used to be though with Honda now in the ascendant.
The company’s German rival Mercedes has a fine range of cars from the diminutive Smart two seater to the mighty M class made in America and used by a number of forces on motorway patrol.
Meantime, VW, Audi and Skoda, all part of the mighty VAG group, are keen to flex their muscles but as yet must wait in the wings. That said, the twin turbo Audio A8 is a favorite with the British National Crime Squad as a covert police car while Skodas, made in the Czech Republic, are among the keenest priced police cars in the UK.
Unlike the Germans, the French and Swedes have as yet made little impact in police fleets. French cars are perceived to have quality issues with electronics and trim and can be over stylized for use as police cars were looks play second place to durability. Saab is keen to make inroads into the market and make its own headlines like Volvo, which now sells 500 cars a year to UK forces, has done over the last 10 years.
Finally, to the Japanese, some of whom—Honda, Nissan and Toyota—have manufacturing plants in the UK. Pride of place on the Honda stand was a 1998 Accord, which with hard years on patrol can now boast running costs of a few cents per mile. Its recently introduced Civic IMA hybrid is already in service in Liverpool in NW England while its quad bike range and two wheeled bikes have made great inroads into the few fleets which still have dedicated motorcycle units.
Nissan, too have had success with its ageing Terrano model which has had the three liter V6 engine installed recently. It’s a popular choice for forces where its smaller width makes it a useful vehicle on rural patrol in smaller UK towns and villages. Also previewed last year was an armor plated Navara pick up.
Toyota’s Lexus arm has found a niche market with its GS models and previewed a new RX 300 as a motorway patrol car. The Central Police Motorway group, which operates in four counties in the English Midlands, has recently taken on board a number of Toyota Landcruisers to supplement its fleet of Range Rovers and is favorably impressed with them, too.
Both Mitsubishi and Subaru are involved in power games in supplying covert cars for high performance applications. Both the Subaru Impreza and Mitsubishi Evo V11 are tuned to produce over 300 bhp and working on the principle that it takes one to catch one, the cars are favored in auto crime squads where their acceleration and top speed (approaching 140 mph) is invaluable in snaring villains before they have a chance to cause mayhem on British roads.
Roger Blaxall is a former press officer with Greater Manchester Police and the Lancashire Constabulary in the North of England. He is now specializing in writing on police fleet matters and can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.