Police to Use Hybrids as Pursuit Vehicles

John Lister's picture

New York and Los Angeles cops may be among the first to use a hybrid electric car that is specifically designed for police pursuits. The Ford Police Responder Hybrid Sedan (pic) aims to meet the twin needs of police vehicles: an occasional high-speed pursuit mixed in with a whole load of waiting around.

A hybrid car uses both an ordinary gas engine and an electric motor. The balance of the two varies between models but one common set-up is to use the electricity when the car is starting up or driving at low speeds, where the electricity is the more efficient option. Another common feature is to harness some of the energy created by braking while driving with the gas engine and use this energy to recharge the electric battery a little more, thus extending the time before recharging is needed.

Stop-Start Pattern Suited To Hybrids

Ford believes that a hybrid is particularly suited to police driving in cities where there's a lot of low speed driving - for example when the main aim is being visible to provide reassurance to the public - and plenty of braking at red lights. It's also a good fit for when police cars need to be idling in situations where the officers need to be stationary to receive or await instructions or when looking for a suspect, but also need the ability to start and accelerate with minimal delay for a pursuit or to attend an emergency incident.

The company estimates that based on typical use for a police car, each vehicle will save almost $4,000 a year in fuel costs, a combination of less time using gas and better efficiency when using the engine. (Source: ford.com)

Model Includes Specific Pursuit Customization

Generally, electric and hybrid vehicles aren't associated with high-performance and speed, but Ford says it has worked to adapt the car to meet the specific pursuit needs of police.

This includes improving the suspension and brakes, using wheels and tires suited to the task and adding a skid plate that minimizes damage to the underside of the car if it hits the ground or curb. The car also has some interior alterations, such as recesses in the seats to accommodate police utility belts and even special plates in the front seats to block stabbing attempts by suspects in custody who have managed to hide a weapon.

According to Ford, both the LA Sheriff Department and Michigan state police have tested the model and rated it suitable for pursuits. Ford also says that its acceleration from 0 to 60 mph is similar to that of existing specialist police vehicles. (Source: latimes.com)

What's Your Opinion?

Does a hybrid vehicle being used for police pursuits change the way you think about such cars? Do you think the average driver uses their car enough for the fuel savings on a hybrid to outweigh the additional costs? How much performance and convenience would you be prepared to sacrifice to get the financial and environmental benefits of a hybrid or even all-electric vehicle?

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Dennis Faas's picture

I might consider a hybrid car if and only if:

(a) there were substantial savings using electricity vs gas. Where I live, we pay some of the highest prices for electricity and I don't expect that to change any time soon.

(b) I knew where we stood with the price of oil. It was my understanding that Canada and the USA were relatively oil-independent due to the fracking of oil and other technologies in the past 10 years. Right now the price of gas remains relatively "low", but then it will jump 20 cents a litre overnight (or more) for no apparent reason. Personally I think it's the gas companies trying to screw us over at every possible opportunity, even if there isn't a justifiable reason. Remember gas prices after Hurricane Katrina? Besides that - who's to say that the hydro company isn't going to do the same once everyone jumps on the hybrid vehicle bandwagon?

(c) there were places where I can actually charge my vehicle. Right now the only place I've seen electric chargers is at a dealership that sells electric vehicles. I'm guessing that most of the electric charging would be done at home, so this isn't too big a deal.

(d) hybrid vehicles were just as affordable as their gas counterparts. Right now they reportedly cost 20% more.

dan_2160's picture

Anybody who counts on gas prices continuing to be so relatively low in the USA is engaging in a fool's fantasy. We have long enjoyed far lower gas prices than most of the industrialized world, but no matter how "independent" we may seem to be these days, those supplies are not inexhaustible and we do remain at the mercy of OPEC which could decide to reduce supplies just like they did in the 1970s. I remember all too well the huge lines at gas stations and the need to impose limits on when you could gas up -- if you had a license plate ending in an odd number, you could buy gas only on odd days of the week, etc. During the incredible inflationary period of that time, GOP President Ford's chief strategy was to get folks to wear WIN -- Whip Inflation Now -- buttons (funny how that strategy did not work).

We're enjoying these lower gas prices in large part due to the fuel economy standards that have greatly improved our collective miles per gallon -- not just increased domestic oil supplies. And if the car manufacturers cared, they could install start/stop technology on every car they make. When we bought our 2001 Honda Insight hybrid, the industry literature reported that start/stop technology improves fuel economy by 17 percent. I can report that our Insight has gotten 45.5 mpg over its lifetime (and it's still going strong) and continues to get 60 to 80 mpg on the highway (depending on weather and traffic conditions). The vast majority of our driving has been in the city. The batteries that power the electric engine were warrantied for 8 years. They lasted 13 years and cost $2,300 to replace -- significantly less than estimated when we bought the car. (Note: Hybrid technology has advanced quite a bit since 2001 and Honda has changed its hybrid scheme quite a bit since then to make it more like Toyota's and increase the city mpg.)

Don't forget that most hybrids do NOT require plugging in -- they don't need to be charged from any electrical outlet. As with our Insight, the gas engine and regenerative braking charge the batteries -- so what you pay for electricity is irrelevant unless you want a plug-in hybrid.

And hybrid's can be tuned to offer high performance, albeit at some sacrifice in fuel economy. The successor to Honda's Insight and CRX is the CRZ hybrid which was pretty high performance, although the combined gas mileage was just 38 mpg. (Please that these are all sporty two-seaters -- and that their gas mileage has tended to be about twice that of comparable vehicles.)

What is important is that we continue to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions. Hybrids are near zero-emission vehicles and they give at least a 25% boost in fuel economy. Honda has been selling a hybrid Fit around the world for five years, but refuses to sell it in the USA. Honda reportedly says that a hybrid Fit would sell for $2,300 more than the solely gas-powered Fit. And unless you're struggling to make ends meet (and let's not pretend that everybody is struggling), that's a pretty darned good deal that minimizes emissions and increases fuel economy from a combined 28 mpg to over 40 mpg. Just think of how much it costs to add all those luxury extras -- which has become pretty much the standard for new car buyers today -- far more expensive than going hybrid.

With hybrid technology so mature, it's difficult to imagine why anybody who isn't struggling financially wouldn't prefer a hybrid motor vehicle.

Kalisun's picture

So with most new cars be it gas, electric, hybrids whatever there is out there now..Are these cars easier or harder to repair than a combustion engine? I'm guessing that right now there's more mechanics that can repair combustion engines than hybrids? I'm also guessing that right now you need to take these new cars into the dealership to be able to do major repairs on the engine or electrical systems. Also, how bad would the problem of being able to hack into one of these police cars be? I'm wondering how secure they're keeping these cars once they get on the road? I can see crooks dropping small yield EMP nades that can shutdown a pursuing vehicle. I know..sounds like SciFi now, but that's how things start out..as someone's imagination..

dan400man's picture

I don't think it's that far into the realm of sci-fi. We already know of several demonstrations of vehicles hacked from the outside. That said, there's not a vehicle built within the past decade (probably much longer than that) that doesn't have electronics controlling driving components, hybrid or otherwise. How susceptible any of these are to hacker interference seems to be very hush-hush from the manufacturers, but I would have to think that they've been working on "firewalling" those components. I would also think we'd have seen more press or PR that they have been working on this, but perhaps the silence is to keep from provoking hackers?

Chief's picture

I can see a hybrid in L.A. where the weather tends to be warm but in NYC you've got to keep the engine running to keep from freezing to death so I doubt the savings will be anywhere near what they are predicting. I still say it would be a better idea to use a hybrid Crown Vic or SUV. I doubt a Ford Focus would get any respect from the bad guys.

dan_2160's picture

Come on now, this isn't a political debate. Let the facts rule.

Having owned a 2001 Honda Insight hybrid for 16 years (in the Chicago area) I can report that your concerns are factually unfounded. Nobody has frozen to death in a hybrid motor vehicle!

First, the stop/start feature automatically turns off below 37 degrees. Second, every hybrid allows you to easily turn off the stop/start feature no matter what the outside temperature is. While there are different approaches to hybrid technology, all of them enable you to keep the motor running by turning off the stop/start feature manually or automatically.

From 16 years of personal experience driving this hybrid, I can personally attest that cold weather has never, ever been a problem. When driving with the outdoor temperature above 37 degree, we have never run into a problem with keeping the car warm. So the engine turns off when the engine shuts off above 37 degrees -- the heater keeps blowing warm air because the gasoline engine is still hot.

I might also add that the engine instantly engages the moment you step on the gas (with automatic transmission) or shift from neutral to first gear with a manual transmission.

rohnski's picture

F1 has been racing Hybrids since 2009, so adapting Hybrids for Police interceptors is not a surprise. Electric engines do have advantages over gas providing power with no delay.

Unfortunately in F1 the Hybrid part is strictly limited. I would be interested to see what the teams would do if there were no limits on using hybrid energy. How much weight would they be willing to "invest" in storing more energy for unlimited use.

As well, there is the entirely electric "Formula E" racing series: www.fiaformulae.com/
They don't "refuel", they actually switch cars in the middle of the race.

dan400man's picture

Police vehicles spend an awful lot of time parked with the engine running. This is where I see the greatest benefit of the start-stop technology.

Another benefit of the hybrid that I didn't see mentioned is the ability to be more "stealth" when stealthiness is desired. Less noise, no smoky tailpipe emissions while parked, make it easier to surveil without drawing unwanted attention.