When Fiat Chrysler pulled the cover off the revamped Dodge Charger last week, its positioning was simple: Behold, the company crowed, “the world’s only four-door muscle car.” The perfect vehicle, in other words, for chasing down criminals and cramming them in for a speedy ride to the station.
In the parlance of the Blues Brothers, the Charger is a cop car, and the latest iteration may corner that part of the market more easily than ever before. For one thing, it’s a big car with burly brakes and a beefy engine—both the six-cylinder and eight-cylinder options are powerful. It has cavernous wheelhouses in back to accommodate wide, sticky tires. The new Charger also comes with a “stealth mode” for dimming inside lights and a feature called Secure Park that lets a driver walk away from the idling car without it being stolen.
Perhaps most important in appealing to law enforcement is what the car lacks: front-wheel drive. “Cops like rear-wheel drive,” says Bloomberg analyst Kevin Tynan. Many officers feel like other drivetrain setups hinder performance in a high-speed chase.
Ford (F), which currently commands about half of the police vehicle market, no longer has that option. The automaker’s Police Interceptor sedan comes standard with all-wheel drive or a front-wheel-drive option. Chevrolet’s (GM) Caprice, a model sold only to police, still has its drivetrain in the back, but it hasn’t proved to be nearly as popular.
All three models are easy to kit out with extra lights, cameras, and partitions. Leather seats aren’t in the equation as they tend to get sullied in short order by incarcerated passengers who have been overserved one substance or another.
And though Ford sells more vehicles to the government, most of those purchases are trucks and SUVs. When it comes to sedans, Dodge has bested its Detroit brethren the past two years, according to Edmunds.com data.
Cops, it turns out, are pretty good customers. Police forces account for about 3 percent of U.S. vehicle sales, according to Tynan. That’s a few hundred thousand cars on a slow year. And individual police departments tend to have the flexibility to buy the vehicles they want, which means the new Charger doesn’t necessarily have to be a more pragmatic car than its competitors. It just has to be a bit cooler and more coveted. Sweet handling is a far sexier sell than snow traction, and marketing “four-door muscle” is as good a way as any to fuel that demand.
And Dodge may not need to work that hard to persuade many cops. Sales for its outgoing Charger model surged 19 percent last year, compared with an 8 percent uptick for Ford’s Taurus and a 4 percent gain for the Caprice.