Ford finally retires the Crown Victoria

After more than 30 years, Ford has finally retired its Crown Victoria sedan, the last traditional rear-wheel-drive, V8-powered, body-on-frame American sedan.  Best known through its Police Interceptor variant, which comprises more than 70% of America’s police fleets today, the Crown Victoria offers old domestic mainstays like a soft suspension, front bench seat, and steering column gear shifter.  The Panther platform it’s built on dates back to 1979 and also lies under the Mercury Grand Marquis and Lincoln Town Car, which are being retired as well.

Ford stopped consumer sales of the Crown Vic in 2008, but sales to police department and taxi fleets have remained strong.  Ford has new police offerings in the works, based on the Taurus sedan and Explorer SUV, but many police departments believe the Crown Vic is still the best option and have driven up sales by stockpiling cars over the last few months.  Yet the same sturdy, easy-to-repair body-on-frame construction that makes the Crown Vic the highway patrol’s car of choice also makes it heavy and inefficient (16 mpg city), which Ford can hardly afford in an era of increasingly tight fuel economy requirements (manufacturers must average 35.5 mpg by 2016 and 54.5 mpg by 2025).

The Crown Vic was introduced for police duty in 1983 and became the dominant patrol car in 1996, when its main competitor, the Chevy Caprice, was discontinued.  Today, Chevy has a new Caprice (based on an Australian Holden sedan) for the police, and Dodge offers a police-spec Charger sedan.  Both are rear-wheel-drive, unlike Ford’s new police offering, the FWD/AWD Taurus.  All offer better performance and fuel efficiency than the Crown Vic, but police fleets remain skeptical.

Despite its dominance in the police and taxi markets, the Crown Vic has seen its share of controversy in the last few years.  Its vertically-mounted steel gas tank is located between the rear axle and trunk, making it susceptible to puncture in a rear crash and leading to strong and instantaneous fires.  Ford faces dozens of lawsuits in the early 2000s following a number of deaths linked to the tank design.  The carmaker eventually settled the cases and in 2003 began to install protecting the gas tank from rear-end puncture.

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