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Replace Sedans with Pickups

Written by Police Fleet Manager Staff

The police use of ½-ton pickups is a growing trend and we know quite a bit about ½-ton pickups and police work. First, all three makes offer a Special Service package for their pickup. Chrysler (RAM) made the most police-specific changes. Ford made the least changes to their work truck, wanting their SSV to appeal equally to other severe-use applications and industries. Chevy used a great deal learned from their Tahoe PPV to benefit the Silverado PPV.

Chrysler (RAM) was first with a formal package. The RAM 1500 Special Service is based on the 4x4 CrewCab with either a 5-foot, 7-inch bed or 6-foot, 4-inch bed. It comes standard with the 395 hp 5.7L HEMI® V8 and 6-speed auto.

The police-specific, Special Service package includes a 220 amp alternator, an upgraded 800 CCA battery, auxiliary engine oil cooler, 10-way power driver’s seat, spot lamp siring prep, certified speedometer, red/white auxiliary dome lamp, and heavy-duty interior fabrics. The RAM Special Service has additional chassis and body welds.

Ford was close behind in introducing their F-150 Special Service Vehicle. Based on the XL trim level, the SSV is available in 2WD and 4x4 and as a SuperCab (6.5-foot bed) and SuperCrew (5.5-foot bed). This was unveiled at the Police Fleet Expo–Charlotte. For the powertrain, the F-150 SSV can be powered by the 360 hp 5.0L V8 or the 365 hp 3.5L EcoBoost V6. Both use the 6-speed auto.

The Ford Special Service package includes cloth front seats with the floor console and center ‘20’ seat deleted. A 220 amp alternator is standard on the SSV, as is vinyl flooring. Skid plates are standard on the 4x4. Think of the F-150 SSV as an XL-trim work truck with a bigger alternator, a wider variety of engines, and other options not generally available on an XL truck.

Chevrolet was the first to have a pickup truck formally tested by the Michigan State Police. They introduced their Silverado Special Service Vehicle at the Police Fleet Expo–Kansas City. The Silverado 1500 SSV is based on the CrewCab 4x4. Using their decade of experience with the Tahoe PPV, the Silverado SSV has a higher output alternator, auxiliary (isolated) battery, vinyl floor covering, center front seat delete, and a column mounted shifter with mappable steering wheel controls. The Silverado SSV is powered by the new, direct-injection, 355 hp 5.3L EcoTec3 V8. This is exactly the same engine as the Tahoe PPV.

Lower Cost of Ownership

One of the advantages of the pickup is initial price. The pickup can be $4,000 to $6,000 less expensive than crossovers and larger SUVs and some police sedans. In fact, low initial price is the most frequently cited reason for the use of pickups.

Size and capabilities aside, performance and drivetrain aside, look at just the costs. The V8-powered, four-door, body-on-frame, 4x4 pickup has an initial fleet price comparable to the average base sedan. It is more expensive than the lowest bid sedan but much less expensive than the big engine sedans, crossovers and large SUVs. The pickup has a higher operating cost due to the greater fuel use. It has the same routine maintenance cost as a sedan but lower repair costs. It has a much higher residual value. It has a much longer service life.

The full-size, V8-powered, four-door, 4x4 truck will get poor gas mileage. At a time when all of the NextGen sedans boost 3 to 5 mpg better mileage than the Ford CVPI, the 4x4 pickup will almost certainly get 3 to 5 mpg worse mileage. This has not been much of an issue for the departments transitioning from the Ford CVPI to the full-size Tahoe. However, it is certainly a talking point as gas reaches $4.00 a gallon again. The largest factor in operating costs is fuel cost. Fuel cost will go up.

On the topic of costs, scheduled maintenance on the patrol pickups will be about the same as the patrol sedans. The overall cost for oil, brakes and tires is about the same. However, unscheduled repair costs will be less for the pickups. Simply put, a half-ton pickup is tougher and more durable than a sedan, and so is a full-size SUV.

And tougher, more durable design also leads to a longer duty cycle, a longer service life. The typical patrol sedan has its tongue hanging out by 100K to 125K miles. The pickups are good for longer use, like 150K or 175K miles. That extended duty cycle alone lowers the total lifecycle cost, the total cost of ownership.

Another factor in favor of the pickup, one that also lowers the total cost of ownership, is residual value. Compare the trade-in or residual value of a V6 police sedan with 100K miles to a V8-powered 4x4 pickup four-door with 100K miles, or even 150K miles. The car gets about $3K while the truck is about $10K. The residual value might go back to a different budget than the initial purchase came from, a budget you may not have control over. However, a higher residual value lowers the total cost of ownership, period.

In comparing the total cost of ownership, acquisition, operation, disposition, the 4x4 pickup will almost certainly have a lower total cost, a lower cents per mile, than the typical police sedan. The large SUV has been costed out as less expensive in numerous studies, and the full-size pickup has much lower initial cost than the large SUV.

Compared to SUV

Perhaps the advantages of a pickup over a patrol sedan are obvious, but what are the advantages over an SUV? One of the most frequently cited reasons for a pickup over an SUV is cargo room and storage. The combination of both a rear seat and an open truck bed allows more cargo and storage options than the rear seat and closed cargo compartment of an SUV.

That said, SUVs are considered to have the advantage when it comes to a secure cargo area, and temperature-humidity controlled storage. However, aftermarket accessories are a clear answer for the pickup.

The pickup is also considered more robust and durable than a crossover or an SUV, even though some SUVs use a truck platform. Trucks are tougher than SUVs. The towing capability of pickup trucks is considered an advantage over that of the crossovers and SUVs.

Driver room and driver comfort are also cited as advantages of the pickup over some SUVs and especially crossovers. No sedan has the front seat roominess of a full-size pickup or large SUV. The back seat of a pickup is comparable to the back seat of a NextGen sedan.

Ride height, ground clearance and driver visibility are definitely pickup advantages. Finally, a lower acquisition cost compared to an SUV is a clear, often quoted, advantage.

A disadvantage of the pickup is a very wide turning circle. The Charger and Ford PI Sedan have a turning circle (curb to curb) of between 37.8 and 38.4 feet. Even the Tahoe is just 39.0 feet. In comparison, expect the 4x4 four-door 6-foot bed pickups to take from 45.1 to 47.0 feet to turn. That takes an 8-foot wider road surface. Not exactly “Jack be nimble.”

An advantage of the pickup over the SUV is the huge variety of aftermarket accessories for the pickup. Police-oriented cargo units for SUVs certainly exist, but there is a much wider selection of cargo units for pickups: a wider range of materials, price levels and of course, flexibility in design. From lockable covers to headache racks to customized storage units to toppers, the selection is extensive, even bewildering. Even fully upfitted with these accessories, many departments find it less expensive than the base price of a large SUV.

Police Performance

As pickups move from their more traditional support role to front-line patrol use, performance becomes a topic of discussion. The RAM SSV with the 395 hp 5.7L V8 reaches 60 mph in 7.0 seconds and 100 mph in 18.3 seconds. Close behind, the Ford SSV with the 360 hp, 5.0L V8 hits 60 mph in 7.4 seconds and 97 mph in 19.5 seconds. Not close behind, the Silverado SSV gets to 60 mph in 9.0 seconds and 98 mph in 21.0 seconds.

For departments considering a pickup as a replacement for the traditional sedan, let’s put these pickup performance numbers in perspective. Regardless of axle ratio, the Ford CVPI with the 250 hp 4.6L V8 had only marginal performance. It took an average of 8.7 seconds to reach 60 mph and 24.0 seconds to hit 100 mph. Two of the pickups got to 60 mph faster and all three reached 100 mph faster; in two cases a lot faster.

All these trucks have relatively low, speed-limited top speeds. The Ford F-150 tops out at 97 mph, the RAM 1500 at 108 mph, and the Silverado 1500 at 98 mph. Recall that the Ford CVPI with a 3.55 axle was criticized for being speed limited to “only” 119 mph.

Strictly Non-Pursuit

And now the bad news about the patrol use of pickups: These are all Special Service package vehicles. None are pursuit-capable, police package vehicles. All come with harsh disclaimers like, “…may not be used as a pursuit vehicle; no excessive speed; no aggressive driving…”

These “no aggressive driving” caveats are made even more serious for departments that replace the OE All-Season tires with Off-Road oriented tires. The low top speed and the lack of a “pursuit-capable” designation from the automakers are two serious decision points for police departments considering the pickup for general patrol.

All three companies are considering a pursuit-rated pickup, one with a lower center of gravity for better handling and a higher top speed. Of course, lowering the pickup reduces some of the advantages of a pickup: ground clearance.

How important are a higher top speed, the pursuit-rating, and an upgraded handling? Pickups currently account for 6 percent of the average police fleet…city, county, rural, urban. The consensus of a cross-section of police fleet managers is that the percentage of pickups in police use would double with a pursuit-rating.

Is the Pickup a Good Fit?

Cost is one factor, but not the only factor. The real question is whether the pickup is a good fit for your department, or your community. Are some of the pickup’s disadvantages deal breakers? The low top speed. The wide turning circle. The lack of a pursuit-rating. The comparatively poor gas mileage. The use of a pickup truck per se, for routine patrol. The lack of large temperature-controlled storage.

The V8-powered, four-door, 4x4 pickup has an initial fleet price comparable to the average base sedan. It is more expensive than the lowest bid sedan but much less expensive than the big engine sedans, crossovers and large SUVs. The pickup has a higher operating cost due to the greater fuel use. It has the same routine maintenance cost as a sedan but lower repair costs. It has a much higher residual value. It has a much longer service life. In comparing the total cost of ownership, acquisition, operation, disposition, the 4x4 pickup will almost certainly have a lower total cost, a lower cents per mile, than the typical police sedan.

SIDEBAR:

LaSalle County, Ill. Sheriff

For the LaSalle County Sheriff, the primary advantage of the half-ton truck for police work is price. A four-door, 4x4, V8-powered truck for about the same cost as the average police sedan—and far less than a police crossover or police SUV.

LaSalle County is the second largest county in Illinois. Most of its 1,100 square miles is rural: field corn and soy beans as far as the eye can see. There are only five towns in the county with a population of over 5,000 people. All the rest is rural with a total population of 114,000. The sheriff’s department has 38 sworn officers.

During the recent winter with the third most snowfall on record, the pickups proved their worth. In fact, the pickups worked right alongside the department’s military surplus Hummers. They did the same thing even though the Hummers had aggressive off-road tires and the pickups had OE all-season tires. This was also the coldest December to March on record. The diesel powered snow plows gelled up while the pickups started every time and ran flawlessly.

Of course, the advantage of a 4x4 pickup is ground clearance. In addition to snow accumulation, both the 4x4 and the ground clearance really matter on some wooded lanes, cross-culverts, field lanes, access roads, field right-of-way, even some gravel roads, and definitely crossing medians. “There is a reason conservation officers use pickups,” Sheriff Tom Templeton said.

Templeton sees the 4x4 pickup as a true multi-use vehicle. The pickup fits anywhere. It is so common and low profile it can be used as a surveillance vehicle—hidden in plain view. It can also be used in traffic enforcement. Nothing blends in better in a rural community than a pickup.

The scenarios ideal for a pickup are also the ones where 100 mph is fast enough for nearly all police tasks. “I would rather have the top speed where it is,” Sheriff Templeton commented. He sees the speed-limited as an advantage. “We can’t help if we don’t get there.”

A large percentage of LCSD deputies are cross-trained as tactical officers. That means they need to carry tactical gear in addition to patrol gear: ballistic shields, helmets, hard armor, a variety of long guns, and extra ammo. The pickup offers space that sedans don’t.

The LCSD pickups use a rigid, lockable tonneau cover, an $800 cost. The cover secures the bed cargo, of course, and holds a lot of gear. However, the tonneau cover has another less obvious advantage. It is strong enough to allow a deputy to stand on it for late-night surveillance.

The lack of a temperature/humidity controlled cargo compartment like an SUV has not been an issue. There is plenty of storage in the second row seats. The seats fold up for large volume items. Importantly, there is a lot of storage room under the rear seat…enough for a patrol rifle laid on top of two filled storage compartments.

There is a definite officer safety aspect of using pickups for patrol. The pickup is much safer than a sedan if the deputy hits a deer, which happens. Of course, physical size and weight equal crash safety, all else equal. One deputy was T-boned behind the B-pillar of the pickup. The truck was totaled, but the officer did not miss a day of work.

The LCSD was 100 percent Ford CVPI. Like many departments, they used a mix of vehicles as initial replacements. This included a few Charger Pursuit V8s and a few Ford PI Sedans (primarily for the AWD capability). Half of the new vehicles are RAM 1500 SSVs. Importantly, nearly all of the future vehicles will be the pickup. However, the LCSD is taking a hard look at the new Charger Pursuit AWD.

Now in their third year with pickups as patrol vehicles, the first pickups went to larger, taller officers. Then the pickups were spread across all three shifts. Their first trucks used the 4.7L V8; the second round was a mix of 4.7L V8 and 5.7L V8. All of the new trucks now have the 5.7L V8.

As the pickup is steadily replacing the sedan, officers are generally given a choice between RAM 1500 SSV, Charger Pursuit V8 or Ford PI Sedan AWD. The RAM 1500 5.7L V8 gets the same average gas mileage in patrol use as the Ford CVPI 4.6L V8. The LaSalle County Sheriff’s Department keeps their patrol vehicles for four years with an average lifecycle of 140K miles. Running the pickups for five years, or 180K miles, is “within realm.”

In the LCSD’s experience, the public’s reaction has been as positive as the deputies who drive the trucks. “The public understands. It is a fit for the rural culture,” Sheriff Templeton stated. The officers have had nothing bad to say, and neither has the public. Occasionally, a citizen will say to the Sheriff, “nice truck…what did that cost?” Some of the public doesn’t believe the answer. “I offer to show them the invoices,” Sheriff Templeton said.

“This is one of the better things I have done,” Sheriff Templeton elaborated.

SIDEBAR:

Pickups vs. Sedans for Police Patrol

Possible Advantages

  • Longer duty cycle
  • Roomier front seat
  • Better crash safety
  • Higher residual value
  • Lower or comparable initial cost
  • Lower or comparable maintenance and repair
  • Faster or comparable acceleration
  • Comparable rear seat
  • Wider variety of upfit accessories
  • Greater towing capacity
  • Greater haul/cargo capacity

Possible Disadvantages

  • Lower top speed
  • Non-pursuit-rated
  • Wide turning circle
  • Cargo is not temperature/humidity controlled
  • Accessories required for lockable cargo
  • Lower or comparable fuel economy

Published in Police Fleet Manager, May/Jun 2014

Rating : 10.0


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