From Swedish sports car to American SUV |

From Swedish sports car to American SUV

Stephen Lloyd Wood
Vail Police officer Rusty Jacobs, left, greets British tourist Win Watkins, Monday, Sept. 22, 2003. After a quarter-century, Vail police are giving up their trademark Saab patrol cars in favor of cheaper Ford Explorers. Both the nation's most popular ski resort and the Swedish car company, which sold to Vail at a loss, say they can't afford to continue the deal, despite the image benefits to both. (AP Photo/Peter M. Fredin)

For 25 years, the town of Vail has used vehicles made by Saab for their police squad cars. Next year, however, Vail cops will be driving Ford Explorers.

“Up until now, it’s been a great deal both for us and for Saab,” Vail Police Chief Dwight Henninger said Tuesday, referring to a long-standing promotional deal among regional dealers who sell the Swedish cars and the world-famous ski resort.

“We got great cars; they got great promotion,” he said.

Saabs are used by police in some European countries, but Vail and Aspen are the only communities in the United States to use them. Henninger said Saab representatives told him the company was spending too much money subsidizing the police departments in two Rocky Mountain resorts.

And indeed, the automobile manufacturer, like the town, has had to tighten its belt during the economic decline, added Saab spokesman Kevin Smith.

“”If you add up our losses through the years, it was millions of dollars that we have donated to the Aspen and Vail police departments,” said Smith. “”We were happy to do it. It was great exposure for us.”

Space considerations

Henninger said, too, it was becoming increasingly difficult to retrofit the Saabs with the equipment necessary for effective law enforcement, such as high-tech computer systems in front and cages to separate and protect officers from their passengers in back. And after Saab proposed raising lease prices from $319 per month to $350 per vehicle, Vail officials talked with BMW and Land Rover before choosing the four-wheel-drive Explorer. Each of the seven Fords will cost nearly $6,000 less than a Saab over the term of a five-year lease, Vail officials said.

Performance, cachet

What will be missed, though, is the Saab’s performance, the chief said.

“The majority of our officers are disappointed,” said Henninger. “The Saabs went everywhere we wanted to go unless there was just a whole lot of snow. “It was a very functional car for this environment.”

Then there’s that certain cachet of driving a European sports car when most other law enforcement officers were in American sedans. Rusty Jacobs said he has been driving Saabs since he became a Vail police officer 13 years ago.

“”It’s fun to drive them,” he said of the black turbo-powered car with black leather interior, CD player, sunroof and heated seats. “”Most people thought it was cool to see us in Saabs. It was an icebreaker that it made it easier for them to approach us.”

Only once was he unable to get up a snow-packed hill with Saab’s front-wheel drive.

“”I think we are going to miss them,” he said.

Good image

Suzanne Silverthorn, Vail’s public information officer, said Saabs were good for the town image -even though the town often had been criticized for using Saabs by people who didn’t know the police department was getting them below cost.

Town Council members were disappointed, too, to see us going to a more generic vehicle, she said..

“Our visitors would stop and have their pictures taken in front of the cop cars,” Silverthorn said.

Pam Brandmeyer, Vail’s interim town manager, said despite the fact there’s no Saab dealership in the Vail Valley, taking care of the Swedish-made cars was not a problem as the town’s Public Works Department had several mechanics trained and qualified to do so. The lease for the town’s current fleet of Saabs ends Jan. 21, she added. The cars then will be returned to the Mike Shaw Saab on South Colorado Boulevard in Denver.

“It may be possible to get ahold of one of them then,” Brandmeyer said.

Aspen officials also said they may also be considering dropping the cars for a cheaper ride.

Aspen Police Chief Loren Ryerson only would say that town is “still negotiating for our next year’s contract.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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