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CHP to Stick With Ford Pursuit Cars

California and the West

May 28, 2000|CARL INGRAM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SACRAMENTO — The test run by the California Highway Patrol to convert its fleet of black and white Ford pursuit cars to upscale Volvos has crashed.

CHP Commissioner D.O. "Spike" Helmick said the chief problem is that Volvo next year will stop making its S70 police sedan, the model the patrol has been road-testing since last summer.

Volvo wants the CHP to buy station wagons instead.

"We're not in the market for a station wagon. We're in the market for a sedan," Helmick said.

But Volvo representative Richard Cook insisted that a CHP bias against the Volvo and other issues sank Volvo's prospects of displacing the Fords.

The officers see the station wagon as a "soccer mom's car for hauling kids around," he said. "It doesn't give them that macho image."

"You mention station wagon and they cringe. You mention sport utility vehicle and they get really excited," Cook said.

In one of the biggest contracts of its kind, the CHP spends about $25 million annually buying vehicles. In recent years, the deal has gone to Ford, which owns Volvo and is one of the last manufacturers of police pursuit cars.

A Ford Crown Victoria costs about $22,500, compared with $27,500 for the Volvo S70 sedan, which has cultivated an image as a sophisticated vehicle for affluent suburbanites.

Last year, the state purchased 10 Volvo S70 sedans, painted them black and white with the CHP emblem and sent them out for a performance test. They patrolled in drastically different environments: searing deserts, congested cities, the snowy Sierra Nevada, the straightaways of the San Joaquin Valley.

"The officers' reports have been positive," Helmick said. "The performance is good."

The commissioner indicated he was surprised when told by Volvo executives some months ago that the S70 would be discontinued.

The CHP has tested other manufacturers' station wagons, he said. "They were not well accepted by the officers," Helmick said.

Volvo's Cook said the wagon performs identically to the S70 sedan, including reaching 146 mph. Both have front-wheel drive, compared with rear-wheel drive on the Ford, and the wagon meets pursuit-vehicle standards, he said.

Cook seemed almost relieved that the brief, troubled romance between Volvo and the CHP had ended. "How many more hoops do we have to jump through?" he asked.

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