Chevy, Dodge and Ford all have a police advisory board. These boards are made up of a cross-section of police fleet managers, EVOC instructors, police chiefs, sheriffs and fleet maintenance supervisors. And the representation on the boards is more or less equally divided between urban and rural; city, county, state and federal; small, medium and large agencies; northern, southern, east, west and midwest departments. All boards include representation from Canadian departments.
Each of the three boards has been much involved in the development and refinement of the company’s NextGen sedans, crossovers and SUVs. This includes everything from input four years ago to test drives of the prototype vehicles.
In each case, the purpose of the police advisory board is a two-way dialogue – the companies bounce ideas for future vehicles and feature off the board members, and board members discuss current service issues and the need for future improvements. This is the truest form of the coveted “voice of the customer.”
Ideas are prioritized into must-have and nice-to-have, and then further costed out based on an estimated take-rate. The final discussion is whether to make the improvement or feature a standard item (which raises the base cost of the vehicle) or an extra optional item.
In each of the semi-annual board meetings, service issues are discussed. Effort goes into determining if this is a ones & twos issue (something that is a normal aspect of any manufacturing operation), or a wider spread issue, or more difficultly, if it is a distant early warning of a looming problem. In turn, the company replies with the status of the progress made on previously raised service issues, and presents recently released special service messages, technical service bulletins and recalls.
One key to understanding the role of these boards is in the very name – advisory. Members give advise but do not make decisions for the companies. The decisions made by the automakers are all based on a business case. All changes must be financially justified and, yes, the company considers both market share and conquest sales in making these decisions.
Most of all, the company considers the cost to make the change divided by the number of units sold…and the police market is extremely small. Major changes to the powertrain, instrument panel, seats or body panels are very expensive. Changes that involve emissions testing or crash testing are almost prohibitively expensive. Features that are not already somewhere else in the company’s retail “parts bin” are costly to implement. All of these are the changes that the company keeps “on-file” until the next redesign of the vehicle.
THAT said, all three automakers absolutely need, and actively seek, real-world input from police customers to make better police cars. None of the companies are naïve about this – all have been making police package vehicles since the 1950s. Yet, all three want advice on how to improve their vehicles – especially their brand new NextGen vehicles. What need for police work do you see that they did not think of during development? What durability issues are you having that their durability testing did not uncover?
All three automakers really do welcome suggestions from the police community. The real trick is how to get these customer comments to the right people. That said, with all due respect to the respective dealer networks, there are definitely wrong (ineffective) ways to voice your opinion. However, there are also right-on-the-money ways to do it.
There are three excellent ways to give feedback. The first is through the automaker’s regional or national fleet sales representatives – and note that I said “fleet.” Nothing voiced to the retail side will be very effective…you probably already know that. Second, through the regional or national fleet technical service reps. Finally, but just as spot-on, contact any police advisory board member, especially one in your regional area.
The full contact information for all of these people is on the company’s fleet website: www.gmfleet.com, www.fleet.ford.com, and www.fleet.chrysler.com. Tell them what you think.