New school Saabs: Aspen PD wants $300k to try out Tesla cop cars |

New school Saabs: Aspen PD wants $300k to try out Tesla cop cars

Jason Auslander
Aspen Times
A classic Aspen Times photo showing two men dressed as clowns standing on a Saab Aspen Police car in the July Fourth parade in 1977. Aspen police officers drove Saabs from the 1970s until 2004. (Aspen Historical Society/Aspen Times Collection)

Officials at the Aspen Police Department have an idea that not only harkens back to the old days of Saab patrol cars, it helps combat climate change.

They want the Aspen City Council to spend $311,000 on five new, all-electric Teslas for police administrators with an eye toward replacing the current fleet of gas-powered Ford SUV patrol vehicles, Aspen Assistant Police Chief Linda Consuegra said Monday.

“We haven’t always had the traditional car police departments have,” she said. “It speaks to the uniqueness of our community as well as our department. It’s OK to be different.”

In addition, electrifying the city fleet helps achieve the Aspen City Council’s goals to address climate change, Consuegra said.

She plans to ask the council Tuesday to approve the purchase of the Tesla Model Y vehicles, which would cost about $52,000 each and require another $10,000 each in special police-related equipment, according to a memo from Consuegra to city councilors. The all-wheel drive vehicles will replace five 12-year-old hybrid Toyota Highlanders, three of which are driven by Chief Richard Pryor, Assistant Chief Bill Linn and Consuegra.

A long line of unsold 2020 Model Y sports-utility vehicles sits at a Tesla dealership in Littleton, Colo. in June 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

If the council approves the purchase next month, the three chiefs would receive the new Teslas, while the department’s school resource officer would be assigned the fourth and a detective would receive the fifth, Consuegra said. And though the department would like to replace four patrol vehicles next year with Teslas, none of the five would be designated as a full-time patrol vehicle, she said.

The department wants to try out the Teslas first before making them full-time patrol vehicles, though Consuegra said the two not assigned to administrators will be available for patrol officers to use.

“We want to figure out the kinks,” she said.

Aspen police used to be known for their patrol cars.

Beginning in the 1970s, the department entered into an agreement with a then-“virtually unknown little Swedish brand” that “provided a steep discount to increase awareness of the fledgling brand in the U.S.,” according to Consuegra’s memo to the council.

“The Saabs were a hit, and the Aspen Police Department eventually worked out a lease program that saw new Saabs shipped to Colorado every three years,” the memo says. “Saabs were driven by the Police Department for decades, until the vehicles were discontinued” in 2004.

After Saab declined to continue the relationship with APD, the department went with Volvo patrol vehicles while it investigated hybrid vehicles. That lasted until 2008, when police began to drive marked and unmarked hybrid Toyota Highlanders.

“Unfortunately, the hybrid vehicles were not able to sustain the needs to run the marked vehicle police package, which caused a connector to continually burn out from the high electrical demands to run all the police equipment,” Consuegra wrote in the memo.

So in 2015, the department purchased the gas-powered Ford Police Interceptors — which are based on Ford Explorers — that patrol officers now drive. Administrators kept five of the unmarked hybrids, which worked fine because they did not have the full police equipment package installed, though the vehicles are now 12 years old and in need of replacement, Consuegra said.

The city of Aspen’s Climate Action Office has been pushing police officials for five or six years to continue to look at electric vehicles, she said. And now is the time to give them a try because Teslas are being used by other police departments and have shown they can sustain the electrical needs of a standard police car equipment package, according to her memo.

Another Tesla Model Y pictured at a dealership in Littleton in June 2020. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

In addition to the battery power — the police Teslas will feature an extra battery to run all the extra equipment — the range of the Teslas also has improved significantly, she said. According to Tesla’s website, the Y Model has a range of 318 miles, a top speed of 135 mph and can go from 0 to 60 in 4.8 seconds.

Finally, the company will give the department an eight-year or 120,000-mile warranty, whichever comes first, on each vehicle, Consuegra said.

Boulder County is currently testing a Model Y purchased earlier this year, and found that it is cheaper to operate on a per-mile basis than the Ford Police Interceptor Hybrid, according to Consuegra’s memo. The cost per mile of the Tesla was $0.03, while the Ford was $0.15.

“Overall, Boulder County estimates that the Ford Police Interceptor costs them approximately $2,652 more per year to operate than the Tesla, and they expect the initial cost difference between the Tesla and the Interceptor to be made up within 6-18 months due to the significantly lower operating and ownership costs of the Tesla,” Consuegra wrote in the memo.

The Fords cost about $44,000 per car, she said.

The city has allocated about $294,000 to replace the five 12-year-old Toyota hybrids, which means about $17,000 more will need to come out of the police department’s general administrative operation budget to cover the cost of the Teslas, the memo states.

“For the five vehicles being replaced with Teslas, the city will reduce tailpipe emission by an estimated 3,000 lbs., which is the equivalent of what 60 mature trees could absorb in CO2 in a year,” according to Consuegra’s memo. “Because of Aspen’s 100% renewable electricity supply, using this electricity (for the Teslas) instead of imported fossil fuels represents a substantial environmental benefit.”

Pitkin County Commissioner Greg Poschman — a noted Tesla fan — asked Sheriff Joe DiSalvo about buying electric vehicles for his deputies late last month during a meeting about the Sheriff’s Office 2022 budget.

DiSalvo said the agency had considered them but dismissed the idea because county deputies are frequently at accident or crime scenes in far-flung areas of the county for long periods where communications and electrical recharging are often not available. Also, because of the large area deputies must cover, they carry a lot of equipment and need the larger space provided by the Chevrolet Tahoes deputies now drive, he said.

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