Saab cries poverty over cops cars
ASPEN — While it is authorities who are used to encountering folks down on their luck, soon police in Vail and Aspen may be telling their own Saab stories.Officials in both mountain towns say that negotiations with the upscale Swedish car manufacturer are stickier than usual this year, and the possibility exists that Saab police cruisers will no longer wheel through the streets of Vail and Aspen as they have done for some 25 years.At the very least, it appears likely that there will be a few less of the stylish sedans to go around. While Saab supplies 13 cars each to Vail and Aspen under existing contracts, thus far it is only offering seven vehicles apiece to the resort governments next year, and at a higher cost.”Saab made us an offer and we made them a counter offer about (three) weeks ago. I haven’t heard back from them yet. We’re still waiting for a response," Town of Vail fleet manager Todd Scholl says.Vail and Aspen are the only cities in the nation that Saab provides cars for at a subsidized rate, and, in return, the Swedish car manufacturer, which is owned by General Motors Corp., relishes marketing exposure unlike any of its kind."There’s certainly the good exposure from it and we’ve understood that and appreciated that all along. But as any business must, we constantly reevaluate everything we do," says Saab director of corporate communications Kevin Smith.Hard economic times prompted the contract standstill and Smith noted that the company has already elected to forego some of its other marketing tactics."The contract is something we have to take a harder look at this year than we have had to in previous years," says Smith, adding that the arrangement has cost Saab hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in recent times.In Vail, seven of the sedans are used as police patrol cars and the other six are divided among the fire chief, town manager, attorney, community development staff and other government personnel, according to Scholl."They have been good cars for us over the years," says Steve Wright, commander of operations for Vail Police Department."We’d just as soon keep them. We’ve had them for over 20 years now," agrees Aspen Police Department Sgt. Gary Kaulkman.While a Saab 9-5, the model driven by Aspen police, retails for well over $30,000, the city of Aspen pays a monthly rate of about $300 per vehicle. Saab typically replaces the vehicles after 15,000 miles, which usually occurs in 18 months or less. Vail has a similar arrangement.Aspen Police Department Assistant Police Chief Richard Pryor says he is hopeful the contract with Saab will be renewed."I’m in the process of dealing with the Saab representatives who we have been dealing with for I think 25 years, and they would like to maintain the relationship with Aspen. Whether they are asked to end the lease or not, I do not know," Pryor says.Even though officials in Aspen remain optimistic the Saabs could return, the opposite sentiment appears to be true in Vail, where a committee has assembled to investigate alternative automakers to accommodate police needs."We’re actually considering switching to a different vehicle. They’ve set up a committee and they are testing several different ones," says Tony Wadsworth, a mechanic who works on Vail’s fleet of municipal vehicles."We’re looking at all the domestics: Chevy, Ford, Chrysler," adds Scholl.That Vail is keeping its options open isn’t a problem with Saab, according to Smith. Under the circumstances, he says it is what he would expect."They’re considering their options and we are as well. It isdefinitely understandable and we may find the only way to continue the program is to reduce the size of the fleets to reduce the size of our costs," Smith says."If the program gets reduced or the entire program goes away, it’ll be a shame certainly but it is something that has cost us a significant amount of money," he says. "The good news is we’re still in negotiations."Contracts with both mountain towns expire Jan. 31, 2004.By Troy HooperVail Trail correspondent
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