WATERLOO, Iowa --- The Ford Crown Victoria --- a popular model for squad cars for more than a decade --- is driving into the sunset next year, and local law enforcement officials are considering what will take its place when the time to update patrol fleets arrives.
"Everything looks like it costs more than the Crown Vic," Black Hawk County Sheriff Tony Thompson said. "We're looking at a pretty sizable investment in any change in platform."
Last year, Ford unveiled its new Police Interceptor based on the Taurus. The company also has a Ford Explorer sport utility model available.
For years the Crown Victoria has ruled the police cruiser market with its conventional rear-wheel drive, V8 power and body-on-frame construction
The company is retiring the car in an effort to move forward with modern features that designers couldn't incorporate into the older architecture, said Marisa Bradley, a Ford spokeswoman.
The Interceptor has all-wheel drive and rollover air bags. It also features a backup camera, blind-spot warning radar --- safety features that have been available on some civilian cars but not on the Crown Vic.
"Everything from the ground up has been built for the police application," Bradley said.
Competing auto makers are positioning themselves, hoping to pick up some of Ford's 70 percent market share.
"2011 is an exciting time for the police fleet business," said Jiyan Cadiz, manager of product communications for Chrysler. "It's a great opportunity. The Crown Victoria is leaving, and we're coming in with an all new Charger."
The Dodge Charger replaced Dodge's less-popular Intrepid squad car in 2006 and took about 14 percent of the law enforcement market, Cadiz said. He said the auto maker hopes to push the figure to 18 percent with the help of a revamped Charger in 2011.
Chevrolet, which saw success with the Impala squad car, is rolling out its Caprice Police Patrol Vehicle. The Caprice saw a law enforcement stint between 1986 and 1996.
Waterloo and Cedar Falls police departments, Black Hawk County Sheriff's Office and the local Iowa State Patrol post all use Crown Victorias in their patrol fleets, sometimes supplemented with other models.
Police cars are more than civilian vehicles with lights and sirens. Law enforcement versions have stronger suspensions and drive trains to handle high-speed chases and around-the clock use. Souped up electrical systems are made to power an array of radios, computers, radar equipment and other gadgets, said Chief Jeff Olson with the Cedar Fall Police Department.
Beyond that, police like enough room around the driver's seat to make the officer comfortable after loading equipment.
"That's our officer's office for eight hours," said Daniel Trelka, director of safety services for Waterloo.
The Waterloo Police Department's last seven Crown Victorias arrive this year.
According to Trelka, the new Ford Interceptor has the same interior dimensions as the Crown Victoria.
Deputies recently test drove Chevrolet's Tahoe police model. While Sheriff Thompson hasn't made up his mind about what to buy yet, he thinks his agency will switch to a sport utility vehicle. The SUV can carry whatever equipment is needed in the field, and they can navigate gravel roads covered in snow.
"For a county unit, we don't have the luxury of going back to the station, so we carry all that gear with us," Thompson said.
In checking with other departments, Thompson said the Tahoe's gas mileage is comparable to the Crown Victoria. Maintenance costs might be a little less.
The sheriff's office plans to rotate four patrol cars for new models in July. The agency budgeted about $30,000 per vehicle.
Sgt. John Baber with the Iowa State Patrol's post in Cedar Falls said rear-wheel drive is a big selling point for state troopers. The post tried front-wheel drive vehicles, but they took a beating, he said.
"With the rear-end drive, it just seems to take the everyday activity of cutting the median a lot better," Baber said.
Like other local agencies, the Iowa State Patrol post has a good share of Crown Victorias. A few years ago, it began buying Chargers because the models could catch up with speeders on interstates. Other models weren't as effective.
"They were speeding down the road, and we couldn't catch them," Baber said.
Now more Chargers are in the field as general patrol vehicles, he added.