The NAPFM: Britain's Police Fleet Conference

By Blaxall, Roger | Law & Order, March 2003 | Go to article overview

The NAPFM: Britain's Police Fleet Conference

Blaxall, Roger, Law & Order

The British emergency service fleet market is among the most diverse and demanding in the world. This diversity led to a forum to address the different issues that consistently arose around fleet management. That forum led to the formation of the National Association of Police Fleet Managers (NAPFM). Since then, its annual meeting has hosted one of the Europe's biggest and most specialized motor shows, open to only a select circle of emergency service fleet managers.

In the mid-1970s, police cars, vans and bikes were sourced from U.K. manufacturers. Ford, Vauxhall, and then-British Leyland (Austin, Morris, Triumph, MG and Jaguar) dominated the police car market.

Norton and Triumph took care of business with police bikes and light commercials from Ford, Leyland and Bedford were still flying the flag for Great Britain. Thirty years ago Volvo was the earliest interloper into the United Kingdom. The Hampshire force in Southern England ran Volvo 121 estates for motorway patrol work.

The dam really started to burst when Great Britain entered the European Union in the mid-1970s. New rules on tendering meant it took on a pan European, not British, perspective, which led to some comical situations. Peugeot tendered cars with its then new 309 range for general police purposes. Certain members of the committee refused to consider a French car until they were informed it was built in the United Kingdom at Ryton, near Coventry in the Midlands. Ironically, the same committee sanctioned the purchase of British Ford Granadas, which were made in Belgium.

It has been over the last five years that the British police fleet has taken on a new perspective as more European and Japanese manufacturers have aggressively pursued business. There are a number of stringent conditions each prospective manufacturer must satisfy. The most important one is to ensure their vehicles meet various levels of compliance to Home Office directives on performance, handling, braking, electronics and price.

The latest police show held at the Wroughton Airfield near Swindon in SW England was the biggest yet, with some 100 manufacturers and suppliers taking over the majority of the airfield along with a large hangar.

Ford, Vauxhall and Peugeot are still the biggest players in the U.K. market controlling some 60% of all vehicles sold (2000 total). Following closely behind are manufacturers like MG, Honda, Nissan, Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes Benz and VW group, Mitsubishi, Toyota and Subaru. The police motorcycle market is split between BMW and Honda.

Ford launched the new mid-sized, high performance Mondeo ST 220 range of hatchbacks and estates aimed at the high profile response and motorway market. With response times forming part of the quality of service charters, cars like the Mondeo have a very busy life. Urban scenarios in particular demand a car that is not only nimble, agile and quick of the mark, but also big enough to carry the equipment of officers in specialist armed response roles.

For an even quicker response, Ford is debating whether or not to produce a police version of the recently announced Focus RS (Rally Sport), the latest in a long line of small, fast Fords with over 200hp. Other Ford debuts included the new Fiesta- ideally suited to a rural policing role, especially when fitted with the frugal TDci diesel engine- and the funky new Fusion, a lifestyle multipurpose vehicle based on the Fiesta.

The latest variants of the ubiquitous Transit van were shown with twin rear wheels, and aimed at two specific markets. Its highest profile role will be as a riot van dealing with violent community disorder situations, but the latest version is also adaptable for conversion into mobile police stations for isolated rural areas.

Volvo is one of the surprise stories of the last few years. Eight years ago it launched the iconic T5 in police specification and hasn't looked back since. Best known in the past for its big, boxy estates, the transformation will be complete in early 2004 when the next generation performancebiased R estates and saloons debut in police format.

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