Twinsburg -- Residents will see blue and white SUV-style police cruisers on the streets instead of Dodge Chargers this summer, save one being used as the K9 officer.
The city has purchased nine new Ford Police Interceptors, based on the Ford Explorer model, for $333,705 -- a step toward replacing the current fleet of 10 Dodge Chargers at the police department.
Council approved the three-year lease with Germain Ford, based in Columbus, Jan. 22.
"It is time to move those vehicles out of the fleet," Police Chief Chris Noga said of the Chargers. "The current fleet of Chargers is starting to see some high mileage and some wear, which is not unusual for our cars after three years of service on the road."
The lease includes the necessary modifications and upgrades to ready the Interceptors for duty, including decals and electronic equipment. The Ford Police Interceptor is built using the Explorer body and the Taurus platform, and is both all-wheel drive and pursuit-rated.
"As we did three years ago, the lease will also cover the after-market outfitting of the vehicles, such as replacement of the cages that go between the front passenger and the rear," Noga said. "It also includes the cost of putting the decals on the vehicle."
The black and white color scheme used by the current Dodge vehicles will be replaced by a dark blue and white scheme, though the graphic design of the vehicles' decals will remain roughly the same.
Police vehicles are normally leased for three years before being purchased by the city and rotated out for new ones, Noga said. The current Dodge vehicles have as many as 100,000 miles on them, but Noga said engine run time is more important than miles driven when retiring vehicles.
"We look at miles but the biggest thing is engine hours," Noga said. "When you calculate in the engine hours, those cars usually end up having more like 200,000 or 220,000 miles on them. That's the biggest factor we look at in times of replacement."
Noga said he consulted with Twinsburg chief mechanic Fred Bissell before moving the department from Dodge Chargers to Ford Police Interceptors.
"One of the biggest complaints that the departments had the past few years with [the Chargers] is their ability to get around in the winter," Bissell said. "The Charger is a traditional rear-wheel drive vehicle, you've got a big V8 [engine] sitting up front, but you've just got a two-wheel, rear-wheel drive chassis set up, so that's not the best thing for winter. They were seriously looking at an option with all-wheel drive and one of the things that came up there was the Ford Police Interceptor."
"They're all-wheel-drive vehicles, which, I think, is going to make a big difference for our officers," Noga added. "Anybody who's tried to get up Cannon Road or up 91 by the clinic when it's very snowy knows that can be extremely difficult. We want to be able to provide service to our residents when they need that service."
Bissell said the Ford Interceptors may prove to be easier to maintain, given Ford's extended warranty on the vehicles.
"One thing that we have found is that Ford is really trying to get back their market share that they lost when they stopped production of the Crown Victoria [police vehicles]. These cars should be basically maintenance-free on our end, as far as big repairs, for five years or 100,000 miles. [Ford] stepped up with that warranty, so that's going to be a big plus for us, too."
The lease will be financed through a loan First Merit Bank at an interest rate of 2.38 percent, with yearly payments of $113,863.37 by the city for the nine cars. Noga said the department plans to purchase the vehicles outright at the end of the lease for $1, then auction them off. The city will receive the cars within 150 days and the lease is expected to start May 15.