Many years ago a law enforcement agency for which I worked embarked on a bold, new experiment: natural gas powered patrol cars. One of our vehicles, a full-sized Ford, was outfitted for the experiment. All the necessary engine modifications and fuel fittings were installed, and the tank wiped out more than half the useful truck space. It was supposed to be much cheaper to operate, better for the environment, all the usual cheerleader stuff. For my sins, I was one of the three officers assigned the vehicle (three 8-hour shifts per day, three officers).
I’ll get into details momentarily, but the definitive reality of the experiment was made plain when I got into a chase with a Chevy mini-blazer of the era. Not only were those vehicles badly underpowered, the one I was chasing had two flat tires, and it ran away from me, particularly when we started a long, uphill stretch.
Briefly, particularly when it was cold–it was cold at least half the year there–the vehicle took as much as an hour to even partially fill the tank. The only filling station was in a city maintenance yard. LNG isn’t nearly as energy efficient as gasoline, so that full-sized Ford police car of the time—90s—which weren’t world beaters anyway, was reduced to a sloth of the automotive world when converted to natural gas. As part of the process of documenting the performance of the vehicle, I conducted 0-60 tests, and discovered the car was slower—much slower—than the slowest vehicle I believe it was Motor Trend had tested to date: a Volkswagon camper van.
Before long, even the police administrators whose brilliant idea the conversion was had to admit LNG wasn’t ready for police prime time and I got the car back, but LNG apparently did some damage. It was never again as fast as it originally was. It now appears New York City—where else?—in furtherance of every leftist boondoggle possible, has gone for EVs, as Popsci.com reports:
New York City aims to be a carbon-neutral metropolis by 2050, and as part of that goal, the city would like its fleet of vehicles to be all-electric by 2035. The Department of Sanitation has tried out an electric garbage truck, for example, and the city also announced late last year that it was ordering 184 new Ford Mustang Mach-E GT electric crossovers for its police force and other city departments. On April 15, the NYPD revealed one of them at the Javits Center, at the New York International Auto Show.
Apparently NYC is also ordering several hundred Tesla Model 3s, which are even smaller than the Mustangs. Beat cops are going to love that. Here comes the requisite EV cheerleading:
Electric vehicles are a boon from an environmental point of view, and can be a good fit for a police department: Many hours of a patrol car’s day are spent in idle with the engine running, doing nothing more than emitting tailpipe greenhouse gasses. By beginning the transition to an electric fleet of patrol cars, the NYPD can reduce the carbon it unleashes upon the city.
Ford has traditionally been the king of the cop car, building hundreds of thousands of them over the years in the form of Crown Victorias. The Blue Oval submitted its Mach-E electric crossover for approval with the Michigan State Police last September, and it passed its exam, becoming the first battery electric vehicle to do so. During that test it was given an above-average mark. It was praised for its trunk accessibility, but docked points for dashboard accessibility and demerits for engine compartment accessibility. (That last one is likely difficult to grade, as the Mustang Mach-E doesn’t have an engine or an engine compartment to access.)
Here’s a little superficial honesty:
While the Mach-E GT ranked highest among potential police cars in acceleration and braking, it did present a few drawbacks. As part of the test to be certified by the Michigan State Police, the vehicle was subjected to laps at a race track and sustained high-speed testing where it ranked quite poorly in comparison to existing patrol cars. It was also given poor marks for features officers will use frequently like the HVAC controls, rear seat access, and instrument readability. (Meanwhile, a try at electrifying some LAPD cop cars with BMW i3s did not go well.)
By “did not go well,” they mean it was a disaster, even though the vehicles weren’t used for patrol duties. Take the link to see why.
The Mach-E GT is a pretty quick machine compared to typical NYPD vehicles. Ford claims the crossover pumps out 480 horsepower and 600 lb-ft of torque combined from a pair of electric motors, one at each end of the vehicle. That’s good enough to shove the 5,001-pound vehicle from 0-60 in just 3.5 seconds. It’ll run the quarter mile in 12.7 seconds, which is quick, but comparatively slower than other electric crossovers in its class. By comparison, a Tesla Model Y Performance can blitz the drag strip in 11.9 seconds. The Mach-E GT is rated to deliver 270 miles of range from its 88 kWh battery pack, though range can drop dramatically at high speed or in cold temperatures, for instance.
Let’s note a few things from the last paragraph. A full-sized Ford F-150 pickup weighs in the neighborhood of 5800 pounds, and the little Mustang Mach-E weighs 5001 off the showroom floor?! Batteries. Conventionally powered Mustangs weigh from 3500 to 3900 pounds. Add in all the other aftermarket goodies a police vehicle needs and you’re in F-150 territory.
In the last few decades, police vehicles have been shrinking, which is a bad thing. Patrol vehicles need substantial and ergonomically rational space for the driver, and protective shields between the front and back passenger compartments. Those shields are heavy and expensive. Officers often have to wrestle uncooperative, violent people into the back sear of their patrol vehicles. Having to do it in cramped quarters is dangerous to all involved. That’s why we’re seeing more and more Ford Explorer sized police packages. Cars the size of a Mustang Mach-E are well into dangerous territory where carrying prisoners is concerned.
Here’s a bit more direct honesty from popsci:
These all-electric machines aren’t cheap. The Ford Mustang Mach-E GT starts at a whopping $66,000 without any options. Some estimates put the cost to upfit a vehicle to police car standards in the $40,000 range. That could bump the cost up to more than $100,000 per vehicle purchased, making the NYPD’s order to Ford possibly over $18 million.
By “upfitting,” they mean adding all the goodies a patrol vehicle needs, things like radios, lights, sirens, medical gear, long guns, radar, a shield and many other essentials. A guesstimate of $40,000 is likely low. Conventional police packages have heavy-duty alternators and batteries, because things like lights and sirens draw an enormous amount of electrical power, as do constant on heaters or air conditioners, which is a very bad thing in EVs, because their electric power comes directly from the motive battery, dramatically reducing EV range. Take a look at this interior shot of a Mach E:
To make it remotely useful, they’ll have to tear out the center console stuff, but that’s going to be hard, because the vehicle’s shift knob is there. Notice the big dash-mounted touchscreen, which is going to prevent mounting anything in front of it, like radios, light controls, rifle/shotgun lock mounts, and a laptop. And no, they’re probably not going to be able to move the touchscreen because it contains most of the vehicle’s controls, and where else would they put it? I’ve no idea how they’re going to mount everything necessary, but they’re going to have to get really creative, and maybe eliminate the passenger seat entirely, which means EVs won’t be usable as field training vehicles, or for two-officer patrol, which is the status quo in major cities.
Perhaps police-modified vehicles come from the factory with more rugged and utilitarian interiors than the non-police versions, but the article doesn’t say. If not, the nice interior Ford shows on its website would be torn to ribbons within weeks by daily police wear and tear.
Here’s some real cheerleading:
On the flip side, electric vehicles don’t wear and tear the way gasoline-powered vehicles do, and don’t need regular services like oil changes, and brakes last much longer. Certainly these patrol cars will still need the occasional inspection, and new tires, but in the long run electric patrol cars will hopefully save municipalities on fuel and service costs. Some cop shops that have already converted to electric fleets have reported saving thousands of dollars annually.
It’s true enough there won’t be oil changes, but that noise about reduced wear and tear and reduced brake wear is nonsense. Brakes strong enough to stop a 5000+ pound car, gas or electric powered, are going to wear the same. Friction doesn’t know or care whether it’s produced by gas or electricity. EVs don’t repeal the laws of physics.
Notice they’re not talking about the price of new battery packs. The more often one charges a given battery pack, the more quickly it will lose its capacity to fully recharge. When a pack is no longer useful, it’s not like changing cell phone batteries. The things cost 1/3 or more the price of a new vehicle, and it’s a major overhaul, which means it would likely be more cost effective in terms of time and money to replace the entire car. EV batteries can’t be recycled, they contain a host of toxic substances, and an EV with a dead, or nearly so, battery, will have the resale/trade in value of road kill. Where are those cost savings again?
And what about charging? Let’s take it directly from Ford. Direct from Ford’s Mustang Mach E website here’s the best-case scenario:
Keep in mind, gentle readers, I know exactly what police officers need, and what does, and doesn’t, work in a patrol vehicle. Notice the charging time with Ford’s best charging unit: 11 hours. We’ll be kind and let’s drop that to 8 hours, figuring officers won’t allow things to drop below, say a 30% charge. That will probably be a departmental policy. Imagine, though, an officer in pursuit of a dangerous felon, watching his charge drop to nothing, or an officer rushing to save a life in the same situation. Now let’s see the second best option:
This one needs 15 hours for a full charge, and let’s be really generous and drop that to 10 hours. Ford’s last option obviously wouldn’t be used with a fleet vehicle, but could be a necessity for a county sheriff or highway patrolman.
This is the kind of charger they’d keep in a trunk for emergencies, and notice the charging time: 95 hours. That’s nearly four days!
What’s my point, you ask? Police officers normally work in eight-hour shifts. Their procedures require them to fill the tank before turning the vehicle over to the oncoming shift, which only takes 10 minutes or so with a gas powered vehicle, but that’s not always possible. Let’s get really, really generous and say a Mach E’s recharging time from 30% to 100% is only 6 hours. That means every EV is going to be charging more than it’s driving—a lot more–every 24 hours. In other words, to provide a vehicle for three officers running three eight-hour shifts, any police agency is going to have to have at least two, and more likely three, EVs to ensure they have a charged vehicle ready to go at the beginning of each shift. That’s assuming none of the EVs are ever down for maintenance, repair, accidents, etc., and remember I’m being generous. It’s simple: EVs will require many more vehicles in the fleet than conventionally powered vehicles.
The only possible way this sort of thing can work is if every officer had their own take-home car—a million bucks minimum per 10 officers; ten million+ for a hundred officer patrol force–but even then, the agency would have to provide a super duper fast charger for their home, pay to have it installed, regularly inspected and maintained, and hope an officer would never have to be called out for emergencies when the car hasn’t had sufficient time to recharge, or when a natural disaster strikes and there’s no available electricity. There’s another factor too: no police station is going to have sufficient amperage for all those chargers. They’re going to have to have the electric power input to their station substantially upgraded, if that’s even possible with the prevailing electric power infrastructure. The cost will be astronomical. Where are those cost savings again?
But wait; there’s more! The Mach E supposedly provides 270 miles of range, but that’s total range. Cut about 190 miles off that range figure to leave around 30% remaining, and keep in mind 270 miles assumes ideal conditions, like flat terrain, turtle-like acceleration, low top speeds, limited use of anything that uses electricity, mild climate, a single occupant, no extra weight from passengers, cargo or police equipment, etc. We’re already down to 190 miles, but then we add hundreds of pounds of police equipment, and lights that cut mileage down by about 10% (still being optimistic), and we can figure no more than 160 miles.
Then add the normal driving cops have to do, and constant A/C necessary to keep officers from dying of heat stroke while wearing bullet resistant vests in spring, summer and fall, and constant heat during the colder months, and we lose another 40 miles and we’re down to 120 miles, and this is all assuming Ford’s 270 mile estimate is accurate in the first place. Even if the vehicle is not moving, if its emergency lights are running, the radio gear is on as it must be, and so is the heater to keep the windows from fogging/icing, and the A/C to keep the interior from overheating and frying the computer and other electronics, and add head and taillights half the day you’re still drawing a huge amount of power.
As even Popsci admitted, in cold weather, batteries discharge far more rapidly, dramatically reducing range, and take longer to recharge. An officer without a garage—most young officers live in apartments—may have no way to charge a take home car, and one charging in the cold is going to take much longer, and likely won’t be able to take a full charge.
Depending on the size of the community and many other factors, required mileage will vary, but I traveled around 100 miles per shift. In an EV, I would have had to stop to recharge at about 70 or 80 miles remaining, which means I’d need a fresh vehicle with time left in the shift, would have insufficient or no time to recharge before the next shift, and would be turning over a vehicle with even less available mileage to the next shift, compounding the problem with every successive shift. See why we’d need three cars rather than one car per 3 officers per day?
If you took the link to see where EVs are supposedly working well, you noticed it’s a 12 officer department, which means a small town, which means low daily mileage and a much more relaxed driving atmosphere. If each officer had a take home car—the article doesn’t say—that might work reasonably well, at least in keeping cars charged for an 8-hour shift.
The ultimate problem is police officers have unique needs, and police cars put the equivalent of 100,000 miles of hard, non-police driving on their vehicles within 18 months or so. They quickly end up being, as is often said in Wyoming: “rid hard and put away wet.”
Final Thoughts: Am I saying Popsci is lying about the Mach E? No, but they’re certainly working to present as rosy a picture as possible. It’s also possible they know little about the requirements and realities of day to day police work; most people have no idea. The usefulness of any patrol vehicle is about more than speed, handling and range.
The guys and girls who do the work will know within days whether the Mach E is suitable for police work. They’ll make their opinions known and will be ignored, until the likely lack of suitability can no longer be ignored by the administrators and politicians who came up with the idea. Unless the Mustang Mach E and the Tesla 3 are not up to conventional police vehicle standards, not only will they not save the planet, they’ll cost lives.
EVs continue to be greenie virtue statements for well off people–primarily the top 7% in income–who have more than enough conventionally powered vehicles when reliable utility and range matter. I suspect the NYPD will discover, long before its politicians, if EVs aren’t ready for non-police prime time, they’re absolutely not ready for police prime time.