Ford’s two new Police Interceptor models are ready for duty with the startup of production at the auto maker’s Chicago assembly plant this month.

Order books for the next-gen vehicles, which come in both sedan and SUV versions, are filling quickly, says Ford’s fleet marketing manager. “We’ve been market leaders, and it’s our intent to remain so,” Gerry Koss tells WardsAuto. “Based on the volumes coming in, we’re confident we will.”

Ford traditionally has controlled about 70% of the U.S. police-car market, which fluctuates between 55,000 to 65,000 units annually depending on economic conditions, he says. But the auto maker faces stiff competition from General Motors and Chrysler entries.

Ford’s Crown Victoria, which ended production in August 2011, long reigned as the top-selling vehicle for police and emergency responders and remains in widespread use. The current model entered production in 1998 and the body-on-frame vehicle is beginning to show its age, Koss says.

“The Crown Victoria was the right vehicle for its time,” he says. “But this is an industry (where) they rely on their vehicles more than anything else, so the industry should have the peak of technology, and with Crown Victoria they weren’t getting the opportunity to have it.”

So far, the Interceptor sedan based on the Taurus is accounting for about 60% of orders, Koss says, with the rest going to the Explorer-based SUV. Both offer superior technology and performance, compared with the previous model, including straight-line performance.

The Crown Victoria is powered by a 4.6L V-8 producing 250 hp, while the new Interceptor sedan comes with either a 3.5L direct-injection turbocharged EcoBoost engine producing 365 hp or a normally aspirated 3.5L V-6 making 263 hp. The Explorer version offers only a normally aspirated V-6.

“We’re targeting fuel-economy improvement of at least 20%,” Koss says.

The two latest interceptors were engineered to offer similar rides despite their disparate proportions. Both are underpinned by Ford’s D3 fullsize platform.

“We brought in a number of police advisory board members, and one said if he was blindfolded he wouldn’t know if he was (driving) the sedan or utility,” Koss says.

When Ford announced in 2009 that the Crown Victoria would be discontinued, there was consternation among some police and emergency responders who had become attached to their aging workhorse sedan.

Ford’s follow-up announcement that the Crown Victoria would be replaced by all-wheel-drive Interceptor versions of the Taurus and Explorer brought more scrutiny, largely because neither was available in rear-wheel drive, which until then had been the industry standard.

Koss says Ford hosted a number of Interceptor events throughout the country to introduce the new models, and participants were impressed by their AWD capabilities. Plus, the new crop of police and emergency responders are not as attached to RWD as are seasoned veterans.

“Change is difficult in this industry, but this new breed (of responders) grew up with front- and all-wheel drive,” Koss says. “They didn’t learn how to drive with rear-wheel.”

Announcing the discontinuation of the Crown Victoria years in advance provided time for government agencies to stockpile their prized RWD sedans. Koss says Ford will continue to supply parts for the older model, noting some vehicles are yet to be delivered.

“Our dealers did great job,” he says. “They purposed a large number of Crown Vics to carry (responders) through that period of time when we were not producing (police cars). We still have some (units) on the ground, but it’s a low number.”

Ford expects to begin delivery of its new Interceptors in the next few weeks.

bpope@wardsauto.com