NSW police have unveiled two new hi-tech highway patrol cars as our homegrown Holdens and Fords reach the end of the road after almost half a century of service.
Turbo-diesel BMWs and V8-powered Chrysler sedans will be rolled out across the state from next month.
The stockpile of Ford Falcon and Holden Commodore highway patrol cars is due to be exhausted following the shutdown of local manufacturing last year.
General duties police will continue to use Toyota Camry sedans, but finding suitable replacements for budget-priced Australian-made highway patrol cars has been more difficult.
Authorities assessed 17 cars over the past three years before deciding on two purpose-built vehicles from BMW and Chrysler.
The BMW 5-Series turbo-diesel is used by police across Europe and the UK, while the Chrysler SRT8 has the same high-performance hardware used by US cops.
The police vehicles are not the same as those available to the public.
The BMW “authority pack” has been stripped of most luxuries but fitted with bigger brakes and is said to cost police close to half the $120,000 list price.
The BMWs may even sell at auction for the same as what was paid for them, versus ex-police Falcons and Commodores that sold for less than half what they cost new.
At about $65,000 the Chrysler SRT8 costs more than the $50,000 Falcon and Commodore performance sedans, although police pay fleet prices.
NSW Police even asked to delete the BMW’s leather seats but the company said it would have cost more to add cloth upholstery because the same “authority pack” is sold to police across the world, including to highway patrol in Victoria. BMW says other Australian states may follow.
Assistant police commissioner Michael Corboy, head of the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command, said the “whole of life cost” of the new cars is comparable to Falcons and Commodores once fuel economy, servicing and the money recouped from resale prices are taken into account.
“It’s no secret we don’t make cars in Australia any more so we had to go outside of Australia. The two manufacturers we’ve gone with … make ready-to-go police cars for around the world,” said Mr Corboy.
The Ford Mondeo and German-sourced Holden Commodore were considered but “didn’t meet minimum benchmark requirements”. The Commodore may make the grade as a general duties vehicle, however testing is not yet complete.
The new generation highway patrol cars are not only the most advanced in Australia but are equipped with world-leading technology worth more than the cost of the cars themselves (see below).
Every highway patrol car in NSW now has automatic number plate reading technology to detect stolen cars or wanted drivers, front and rear facing cameras to capture mobile offences, as well as being equipped with tablet computers for quicker vehicle checks.
The technology has already led to dozens of arrests of dangerous criminals.
Police say the extra technology will not only help keep the roads safer but highway patrol vehicles are increasingly being used for front-line police work.
Contrary to public perception the highway patrol are often first cars to the scene of violent domestic disputes, armed hold ups, and other life-threatening situations, including backyard pool drownings.
The first police officer to attend the Lindt Cafe siege in Martin Place was a highway patrol motorcyclist.
“We are in a lot of cases the first police to respond to critical situations because we are out on the roads already. When an urgent job comes over, we drop everything,” said Mr Corboy.
Police will roll out the new highway patrol cars from July as they begin to retire the first of the Falcons and Commodores that have completed their service.
HIGHWAY PATROL IN THE REAR-VIEW MIRROR
In the mid-to-late 1970s NSW highway patrol had a fleet of six-cylinder and then V8-powered Valiant Charger coupes (above). They were sold to police at heavily discounted prices just before they went out of production.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s Ford also did a red hot deal on XC Falcon V8 coupes (above). Despite the model being made famous by its leading role in the movie Mad Max, buyers favoured sedans over two-door cars.
Police first got V8-powered Commodores with the arrival of the VH model (above) from 1981 onwards. Then the unthinkable happened …
When Holden briefly went without a V8 in the late 1980s, the high performance version of the VL Commodore (above) was powered by a turbocharged Nissan six-cylinder that ended up being faster than a V8.
Holden again put a V8 under the bonnet of Commodore highway patrol cars from 1988, and continued through to this VR model (above) from the early 1990s and beyond.
By 2002, it was easier and cheaper for Holden to supply highway patrol with the complete Commodore SS package, such as this VY model (above). Earlier versions had big V8s in standard cars.
Near the end of the Ford Falcon’s run NSW highway patrol took a batch of supercharged V8 XR8 sedans (above) to run alongside the fleet of XR6 Turbo sedans. They were powered by a version of the engine that drove the final GT.
Falcon XR6 Turbo
The Falcon XR6 Turbo (above) was so quick NSW Police insisted Ford fit larger brakes for better stopping power. Holden also upgraded its brakes with the final VFII Commodore powered by a Corvette-sourced 6.2-litre V8.
HI-TECH HIGHWAY PATROL CARS
Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras on the roof monitor traffic in both directions — as well as parked cars — to identify wanted vehicles and criminals.
In-Car Video cameras in the front and rear windscreens record vision and audio during vehicle stops.
Mobile Data Terminal mounted near the dash can run checks on people and cars. Police can view licence photos to confirm identity.
During serious incidents dome cameras on the roof bar beam live footage to the traffic management centre to help clear roads faster.
Tickets can now be issued via a tablet computer, so when police say they will send it in the mail, chances are they really will.
Car-mounted radar units detect speeding drivers in oncoming traffic.
Handheld laser guns, known as “Lidar”, are operated in areas where car-mounted radar isn’t practical to use.
“Stop Sticks” stored in the boot slowly deflate tyres once a car runs over them.
Highway patrol cars carry drug testing kits and alcohol breath test units.
Cars automatically update “wanted” lists via secure Wi-Fi links. In urgent cases “packets” of data can be sent in seconds to every highway patrol car across the state when searching for a wanted vehicle.
Digital radio transmissions are encrypted so baddies can’t eavesdrop.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling