PO­LICE PUR­SUIT

GM Holden is chas­ing traf­fic with the Caprice PPV, writes Paul Gover in the US

Herald Sun - Motoring - - On The Beat -

SERGEANT Steve Lentz is dressed for ac­tion. The Ari­zona po­lice­man is in full bat­tle gear, right down to a bul­let­proof kevlar vest that in­cludes spare mag­a­zines for his pis­tol and ex­tra am­mu­ni­tion for a po­lice-is­sue as­sault ri­fle.

He is on a mis­sion and tak­ing things deadly se­ri­ously.

Lentz has come to Fire­bird Race­way, on the out­skirts of Phoenix, to as­sess the lat­est sus­pect in the search for a newage Amer­i­can cop car.

The three con­tenders are the Ford Tau­rus, the Dodge Charger and the Chevro­let Caprice, with all three brands push­ing hard to take the place of the clas­sic Ford Crown Vic­to­ria that’s been the front-line bat­tlewagon — and starred in count­less tele­vi­sion shows — for more than 15 years.

Lentz is one of more than 40 po­lice peo­ple who are run­ning through an in­ten­sive one-day pro­gram with Chevro­let that in­cludes a 90-minute brief­ing and two driv­ing ses­sions in­tended to show what the Caprice can do.

‘‘ I’m ready. This is se­ri­ous. I’ve even got the vest on so I can see what it will re­ally be like to drive this car on pa­trol,’’ Lentz tells Cars­guide.

We are here be­cause the Caprice is not just an­other Amer­i­can car with bright lights on the roof and a fit­tings for a po­lice com­puter and shot­gun.

The Caprice PPV — Po­lice Pa­trol Ve­hi­cle — is Aus­tralia’s new­est pitch for ex­port busi­ness with the home­grown Holden Com­modore.

A big deal could mean more than 10,000 sales a year.

GM Holden did well in the US with a Com­modore that was tweaked into the hot Pon­tiac G8 but, when Gen­eral Mo­tors closed the brand as part of its bank­ruptcy pro­ceed­ings, the deal died too.

Sadly, the G8 was only just start­ing to fire when it was killed.

Now Holden has the mas­sive po­lice car busi­ness in the US in its sights and be­lieves it has the right pack­age in a tweaked Caprice that should tick all the boxes for pa­trol car work across Amer­ica.

‘‘I like that car. We like our big cars here,’’ says the bus driver who drops us at Fire­bird.

It’s a sim­i­lar story among the po­lice teams — front-line of­fi­cers, driver train­ers, pur­chas­ing staff and work­shop crews — who as­sem­ble for the Caprice PPV pro­gram.

Lentz is typ­i­cal as he pre­pares for ac­tion. ‘‘I have high hopes but low ex­pec­ta­tions,’’ he says.

It takes less than half a day to run through the pro­gram, which is wind­ing down through a 20-city road­show over the past three months.

Host Michael Lord talks hard and fast about the Caprice and pro­gram man­ager Dana Ham­mer is ready to an­swer any ques­tions.

The biggest con­cern for most of the po­lice is how their com­put­ers will trans­fer into a car with a tee-bar shifter in the cen­tre of the car.

They seem im­pressed by the de­sign, the space and claims of class lead­ing per­for­mance from the 6.0-litre V8 en­gine.

‘‘I will make the case for the ve­hi­cle to­day. But at the end you’re the judge, you’re the jury, you will make the ver­dict,’’ Lord says.

The of­fi­cers lis­ten in­tently but the smiles come as they head to the track to drive.

It takes less than a minute for the sound of tor­tured rub­ber and hard work­ing V8s to echo around Fire­bird.

Many have al­ready driven the ri­val cars and are not im­pressed by the cabin of the Charger or the front-wheel drive in the Tau­rus.

They see the real ri­val to the Caprice as the Chevro­let Ta­hoe, a mid-sized SUV, though it is also more costly.

At the end of the pro­gram, the Caprice PPV has won fans but it’s time to crunch the num­bers.

The car is not cheap — def­i­nitely not the cheap­est — and the next step for many po­lice forces will be to take one or two cars for an on-the-job eval­u­a­tion to check the run­ning costs and the in-ser­vice abil­i­ties of the Caprice.

But the Aussie con­tender has made an im­pres­sion and it’s mostly pos­i­tive.

‘‘I like the car. As a car and as a po­lice tool,’’ Sergeant Johnny John says.

‘‘It’s gonna keep you alive.’’

High hopes: Sergeant Steve Lentz is search­ing for Amer­ica’s new cop car.

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