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Associated Press

DETROIT -- The police car you see on the roadside -- or in your rearview mirror, if luck's not on your side -- might not look like you expected.

The sporty upstart Dodge Charger is aiming to challenge the Ford Crown Victoria as chief of police cars. Chrysler LLC's full-sized model that debuted in 2006 is no immediate threat to the Crown Vic or Chevrolet Impala, the market's other major player, but the Charger is gaining momentum in a market that sells 75,000 vehicles a year as national tests cite its speed and handling.

"We've been steadily gaining market share and acceptance for the police vehicle since its inception," said Chrysler LLC spokeswoman Shawn Morgan. "We see that trend continuing."

It's a small dent in the automotive industry, which expects to sell about 16 million cars this year. But it's an important niche for automakers because it gives them a chance to put their products to the test when life -- or at least the law -- is on the line.

"That vehicle has to accommodate a bunch of requirements -- it's an officer's first-aid station, comfort area for accident victims, command post for a crime scene. Next thing you know it's involved in a high-speed run, responding to a heart attack, chasing a criminal," said Lt. David Halliday, who leads the Michigan State Police's annual police vehicle tests, which serve as a national standard for law enforcement. "We really ask (the automakers) to do an enduring duty for the public that's often underestimated."

Automakers don't break out data for sales to law enforcement agencies, but overall sales for the full-sized Charger were 97,833, up 1.5 percent for the first 10 months of 2007 compared with last year. The Crown Victoria's sales were 51,286, down 7.2 percent during the same period. The Impala's total sales through October were 270,504, up 12.6 percent, according to Autodata Corp.

John Felice, Ford Motor Co.'s director of North American fleet operations, said the decline is due to a drop in retail sales, which accounts for a small percentage of the Crown Victoria's sales. He said Ford forecasts flat sales this year for police cars and controls about 80 percent of the market.

The latest round of police vehicle tests on 2008 models found the Charger with the 5.7-liter HEMI V-8 engine had the fastest acceleration, highest top speed and among the shortest braking distances.

"Law enforcement has always liked good performance in a vehicle," Halliday said. "For example, the (5.7-liter) Charger has a top speed of (nearly) 150 mph. If you're in the market for a vehicle that has that kind of performance, that kind of vehicle will fit the bill."

He said his testing team doesn't assign scores or declare winners. It assesses what each vehicle offers and how it can be applied to a department's mission. The tests also include road racing course times on a two-mile course.

The winners: V-8 versions of the Dodge Charger and Magnum wagon.
 

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John Felice, Ford Motor Co.'s director of North American fleet operations, said the decline is due to a drop in retail sales, which accounts for a small percentage of the Crown Victoria's sales.
Actually Ford no longer sells the Crown Vic on the retail level - it became a fleet-only car several months ago. Oddly enough you can still get a Grand Marquis though.
 

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Few people know this it seems, but the Crown vic, interceptor model and taxi model is something like 6"s longer than the now deleted public model and grand marks . They offer the longer version to the public only in the Town Car L model. The extra length in the Ford Interceptors is to allow the extra needed space to acomodate the safty cage behind the driver. I wounder if Dodge plans to address that issue in the future on the Charger police units or maybe they already have???
 
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