The marked police car fleets of Europe remain heavily loyal to local manufacturers in many markets. Manufacturers offer substantial discounts to fleet buyers in an effort to keep the business.
Police agencies purchase a wider variety of cars for unmarked duties.
The police car market is not huge, and it is not easily identified. Automotive News Europe estimates that 40,000 units a year are purchased across Europe.
But it remains important for prestige purposes.
'You simply have to be there,' said Juergen de Grave, an Audi spokesman.
'It is certainly not as important as having one of our cars starring in a movie, or being chosen the official car at big events like the Olympic games,' he said. But having cars in a police fleet proves to all customers 'that our cars are suitable for such a task.'
All the main contenders in Europe take a share of police car sales. This is unlike the USA, where Chevrolet and Ford supply about 70,000 more or less standardized police cars a year.
Although the European Commission demands that such purchases be made in a public bidding process, in certain countries the authorities find loopholes to favor local industries.
John Moran, who is responsible for fleet sales at General Motors Europe in Zurich, said that France and Italy are 'very challenging markets' in this respect.
France's car fleet of marked patrol cars is almost 100 percent of French origin. Following a centralized policy, the French government formally organizes a tender for official car purchases.
'But in the end they always buy Renault, Peugeot or Citroen,' said Thiery Lespiaux of Opel France. 'It really is a touchy business.'
However, Lespiaux says that Opel - like some other non-French carmakers - is not completely excluded. Opel supplies some 40-50 unmarked police cars annually.
Annual French police car sales are about 4,000 to 5,000 cars, which are not included in official registration figures. The size of the overall police fleet is estimated at 35,000, although the actual figures remain confidential.
The Italian police car market has always been strongly protected, especially when Alfa Romeo was state-owned. Most police cars still wear Fiat or Alfa Romeo badges. Italian authorities follow public procurement directives, but Fiat has developed a special Marea police version which has helped it win supply contracts.
The Italian market has opened recently. Some Toyotas and Volvos are sold to the Italian police. Hyundai supplied 700 unmarked cars for police duties because the Korean firm offered a three-year warranty. Range Rovers are supplied as 4x4 vehicles alongside locally produced Fissore Magnums. Foreign car importers did not make any tendering attempts in the past, but they are now.
'Purchasing policies have changed and we are given reasonable chances now,' said Andrea Varnier of Chrysler Italy. Chrysler recently made a tender for 180 Cherokees for the Italian police. But the total police car fleet volume as well as annual sales are considered classified information in Italy.
In the UK, the police car market is open and visible. The 56 constabularies are free to purchase whatever vehicle is suitable for their purposes, as long as they are listed by the home secretary following a public tender along European guidelines.
Ford and Vauxhall each hold about 30 percent of the fleet that totals about 27,000. The figure includes marked patrol cars and unmarked cars and vans used for other purposes.
'The mix is about 40-60 percent, in favor of the clear marked patrol versions,' said Barry Crawshaw of Ford UK.
'Really all manufacturers should be able to meet the police specifications, which mainly concern functional performance,' he said.
Volvo S70 and V70 turbo models as well as BMWs perform motorway patrol duties. Ford police sales in the UK include Transit vans. Land Rover Discoverys and Range Rovers are popular for off-road work. Chrysler has supplied some Cherokees.
The Dutch police always offer a public tender in the international tender magazine. Bids are sourced to local importers. But again, 26 of the local Dutch regional police authorities are free to purchase cars to fulfill their own specific needs. As the Netherlands has no national car industry, the market is open.
'We judge all bids for quality, reliability, passive safety and operational cost,' a spokesman for the Dutch police said.
VW, Opel and Ford are the main contenders, and Volvos are used for motorway patrols. The Dutch police operate a fleet of 12,000. Two-thirds of them are unmarked or undercover cars.
In Germany, most of the 16 Federal Bundeslaenders solicit public tenders.
They usually favor local car manufacturers on the grounds that they provide better after-sales service. Thus, Bavaria uses mainly BMW and Audi. Hessen uses Opel. Baden-Wuertemberg police use Mercedes-Benz. Westfalen and Rheinland-Pfalz favor Ford. Sachsen uses Volkswagen. In Saarland, Peugeot has supplied the police cars for some time.
'We made public tenders in 1992 and 1996,' said Hans Weber, spokesman for the home secretary of the state of Hessen. 'Opel won the main contracts for marked patrol cars, because local manufacturers offer high discounts. But we are running other makes as well, such as the Rover 620 and Lancia Kappa. And you may find all sorts of cars and makes, from Fiat to the Japanese, in German police forces.'
Weber said that discounts can be 25 percent and more. He said that operational costs and safety and environmental features are always taken into consideration as well.
Germany's police car fleet numbers around 60,000; the figure includes motorcycles, vans and trucks as well as cars. German police cars have to have four doors.
Annual demand for police cars amounts to between 6,000 and 8,000 vehicles. Of all marked police patrol cars, the Opel Vectra is the most popular. In Germany, the split between marked and unmarked police cars is withheld, apparently for security reasons.
Despite some traditional government links with some local Spanish carmakers, Spanish police car purchasing is fairly open. Spain has four different police car forces - the Guarda Civil, the regional police, the metropolitan police, and the Guarda Civil traffic squad. The government operates an open tender system.
Price is the most decisive factor, even above any consideration of long-term operating costs. Spanish police cars suffer high breakdown rates.
Citroen and Renault provide the most popular patrol cars, but many other makes, including BMW, are used for unmarked duties such as speed checking.
In Austria, VW, Opel and BMW are important police car makes. No Austrian police authority or manufacturer is prepared to disclose any discount figures. But discounts for large fleet sales are often 20 percent and more off regular list prices.
Volkswagen, Ford and Opel are the lead suppliers to most other European police forces, notably those in Scandinavia, Belgium and Switzerland. Opel recently won a contract for 600 cars in Hungary. But none of these companies disclose overall European sales figures because of the efforts made by individual countries to maintain secrecy.
Volvo is also making big efforts in these markets. Volvo supplies marked police patrol cars to the UK, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries. It also sells unmarked undercover cars to some southern European countries, but for security reasons it is not allowed to say which.
The Japanese companies keep a low profile, selling a few cars to undercover fleets. Chrysler has no strategy to promote sales of Voyagers and Cherokees to police forces on a pan-European basis.
In Scandinavia, the UK and the Netherlands, police forces tend to settle for lease arrangements rather than direct purchasing. Most police forces buy standard cars and fit special police equipment of their own choice.
Mercedes-Benz offers police car packages that include sirens, flashing lights and first-aid kits. Fiat developed a police version of the Marea sedan and wagon earlier this year, to Italian government specifications.
Volvo also takes this market very seriously, offering special equipment from the factory such as heavy-duty shock absorbers and security locks for rear doors.
'We have developed a standard package which includes flashing lights, telecommunications equipment, and video equipment,' says Walter Fortgens, managing director of Volvo Car Special Products AB in Sweden. 'But we will tailor-make our cars to the specific needs of individual police forces. They are purchased on standard model's pricing, then converted.'