SACRAMENTO — The California Highway Patrol will soon become the first state police force in the nation to use foreign cars when the agency begins road-testing seven Japanese-made Toyota Camrys, CHP officials said Friday.
If the test goes smoothly, the department may buy a limited number of Camrys for use in the mountain foothills by the early 1990s, said Jay Emery, a transportation services manager for the department.
The CHP is testing the Camry at the suggestion of Toyota Motor Sales USA, Emery said. He said the program will cost the state almost nothing because Toyota is selling the cars to the state for $1 each and has agreed to buy them back at the same price in one year. The cars sell at retail for $14,388.
"They have come to us and said they want to build the world's best police car," Emery said. "They have asked for our input, and we are helping out."
Mike Michaels, product news manager for Toyota, said the company decided to develop a police car after getting positive reactions at a recent convention for auto fleet buyers.
"We are not in the police car business," he said. "We don't offer anything for sale. Our purpose is to test the waters and evaluate the car's suitability before we take any more steps."
A Camry is being tested at the CHP academy in West Sacramento, said Highway Patrol spokesman Sam Haynes. The cars are expected to appear on state highways in about a month.
Haynes said it makes sense for the department to help Toyota develop a police car in case higher gasoline prices or other factors force American companies out of the business.
"American manufacturers might decide they don't want to be in the enforcement vehicle business," Haynes said. "In that case, law enforcement may well have to explore other options."
But Emery said the department has no immediate plans to replace its fleet of Dodge Diplomats, Chevrolet Caprices or Ford Mustangs. If the state does add the Toyota to its patrol car fleet, it will not be until at least 1992.
Because the cars have front-wheel drive, they have better traction in wet and snowy conditions. Emery said the department might consider buying them for use in the mountain foothills where winter conditions vary frequently between snow and dry road. With rear-wheel drive cars, officers waste a lot of time while tire chains are installed or removed.
"We think this will be a very good car for the 2,000-feet to 3,000-feet elevations," he said.
Although the cars were made in Japan, Emery said he believes the special test arrangement will not violate a state law prohibiting the CHP from using foreign-made vehicles. If the state does buy any Camrys, they will be manufactured at Toyota's new plant in Georgetown, Ky.
"This is merely a test," Emery said. "The end result of our test is, hopefully, to develop a good police package for the 1992 Camry."
Toyota modified the six-cylinder cars at its racing facility in Torrance, adding heavy-duty suspensions, anti-sway bars and auxiliary engine and transmission coolers. The cars also have special push-bumpers, speed-rated tires and heavy-duty upholstery.
The Camry, fully loaded and carrying two people, was able to go from a standing start to 112 m.p.h. in two miles. The Dodge Diplomat also reaches 112 m.p.h., while the Chevrolet Caprice can get to 120 m.p.h., and the Mustang, which is used for high-speed chases, can reach about 130 m.p.h.