We hear a lot about the experiences of owners with their private electric cars or company cars, but less often about the use in government agencies (like here from New York) with very specific requirement profiles. One such is the cantonal police of Basel-City in Switzerland. Sergeant 1 Bruno Carnot, Head of Police Operations Logistics in the Department of Justice and Security of the Canton of Basel City, told me about their experiences with electric cars.
Two years ago, the local police started to think about the acquisition of new so-called alarm standby vehicles, otherwise known as patrol cars. Such an on-call vehicle is the most powerful vehicle in the city, available around the clock, driving through the city with a three-man crew. Three police officers, whose functions are divided into driver, chief and clerk, are used for initial intervention in the event of violent acts, domestic violence, robberies, alarms or major traffic accidents. They are often the first responders at these locations, which places special demands on the vehicle and equipment.
For example, the vehicle must be capable of carrying a load of materials and equipment used in road accidents and police operations. This includes, for example, three ballistic helmets and three security helmets. Ballistic material, such as bulletproof vests, is particularly heavy. If necessary, it must also be possible to carry a fourth person, such as an arrested person, in the vehicle. And, as one can imagine, such an alarm on-call vehicle must also be able to provide rapid and reliable mileage.
In 2018, a catalogue of requirements with SWOT analysis was drawn up to replace the Mercedes E-Class 350 4-matic that had been used until then. The requirements included all-wheel drive for the Swiss winter, sufficient load volume and payload weight, and also a satisfactory carbon footprint.
The city already had experience with electric cars and hybrid vehicles. Since 2011, for example, Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Toyota Auris hybrids have been used (but not as alarm standby vehicles) and therefore felt encouraged to try electric cars in patrol cars.
With the catalog of requirements, only the Model X from Tesla was left over. And according to Bruno Carnot, this will remain so until 2022, if one believes the plans of other manufacturers as to when electric vehicles with comparable performance will come onto the market.
On April 27th, 2019 the first of today’s seven Tesla Model X were used by the Basel police. After one year in service, the first vehicles have already covered 40,000 kilometers without any notable quality defects.
The officers on duty on the vehicles attended special training courses in order to understand the specifics of handling the vehicle. A service regulation regulates the handling of the vehicles. An interesting initial finding was that the vehicle crew should not adjust the settings if possible. Especially the suspensions were raised manually during the operation, because it gave a better driving feeling, but this led to a strong wear of the tire flanks.
The engine performance of the Teslas during a blue light drive is unproblematic even in cold weather. The earlier vehicles with diesel engines were susceptible and never got really warm. The Model X, on the other hand, drives like a sports car at any temperature.
This became visible in snowy conditions in winter. While earlier four-wheel drive vehicles were overtaxed in such road conditions when driving slalom and curves, the Teslas stayed on track. This convinced even the last doubters.
Before the vehicles could be put into operation, certain modifications had to be made. From ballistic protected parts to installations that allowed to safely restrained arrested persons. With the previous generation of alarm pick-up cars, such a conversion cost around 90,000 Swiss francs per vehicle, and 140,000 Swiss francs for the Model X.
As it turned out, the Falcon Wing doors are ideal for guiding an arrested person safely into the vehicle. Also, the speed of opening and closing the doors is fine, and thanks to the Tesla key, they can also be operated remotely (complete closing of all doors), which provides greater security in situations where an arrest is made with a drawn firearm. On the right rear seat there is a device that limits the legroom of a person arrested, thus preventing escape or assault on the police officers.
The Basel cantonal police have now also received a license from Tesla to convert the vehicles themselves. This is important so as not to lose the guarantee.
If certain quality defects were still noticeable in the first preserved vehicles, this has now become a thing of the past. The quality improvement in the vehicle production, which Tesla has succeeded in, is noticeable.
Recuperation and the Calming Effect
Police officers are encouraged to deliberately use recuperation instead of the brakes, and not just because it is more energy-efficient. It also provides for a deceleration of driving, because even when the lights are flashing blue, the vehicles let the car roll out at red lights and drive in a more anticipatory way. This sounds contradictory at first sight. Shouldn’t the emergency vehicles be at the scene as quickly as possible? And the answer is yes and no. During alarm drives, drivers tend to lapse into tunnel vision due to the stress. From a 140-degree angle of vision, the view is narrowed to 90 degrees, which can put both the environment and the crew itself in danger. At the same time, the pulse rate increases during such journeys. A constant stop-and-go, start-stop-start-stop, which is omitted in one-pedal drive because you simply get off the accelerator and let the recuperation slow down.
A focus on a driving style with recuperation prevents tunnel vision, the pulse stays down and the crews arrive with a clearer head at an operation site where an often confusing situation must be quickly grasped.
A quite unusual and unexpected effect of an electric vehicle, which is to be worked on with a scientific study. Every electric car driver can confirm this from his own experience: electric driving is more relaxed.
Software & Privacy
But because a modern electric car like a Tesla is above all a software machine with many sensors, this can raise further requirements. For example, it must be ensured that the built-in safety functions can differentiate whether the vehicle is, for example, on a blue light drive, i.e. in alarm mode.
The data collection also called the data protectionists into action. In a report (in German), the possible personal data collection was analyzed and also where this data is stored: locally on the vehicle, on a cloud server, and where it was located.
Before the introduction of the Model X into the police service, the police department made an informal survey among police officers on how many kilometers they would drive per day. The most common figure was 400 kilometers a day. In fact, after one year, it appears that the daily mileage is around 150 kilometers. With an 80% range of 400 kilometers for those with a 100 kWh battery more than sufficient. It has also become a habit among drivers to automatically plug in their vehicles at the 22 kW charging stations installed at the places of work during breaks or other official activities. Also, Tesla’s Supercharger network in Switzerland is now so large that you can always find a Supercharger nearby throughout Switzerland. No police force in Switzerland drives so much that they don’t find the time to charge. Bruno Carnot commented that you could easily get by with an 85kWH battery.
The officers were trained on the vehicles and met with a lot of interest. Some myths could be dispelled (battery fires were one of them) and after the first year it is accepted and more suitable and easier to operate in many conditions. The employees also find that the vehicle is very easy to operate. The controls are well thought out and very similar to the previous Mercedes vehicle.
There are still no final conclusion on this, it is currently being recorded internally. Although the conversion costs were higher and initial installation costs of charging stations were noticeable, the electricity and operating costs appear to be lower than those of burners. However, a separate report will be published on this.
After the introduction of the Cybertruck in autumn 2019, it is also at the top of the police force’s wish list. It seems to be a suitable vehicle for certain purposes, even though it would probably make less sense even in the city and looks too martial.
This article was also published in German.