CHICAGO – The replacement for the icon among police vehicles, the big rear-drive Ford Crown Victoria, is off to a “decent” start in sales, according to Lisa Teed, general marketing manager for Ford’s Interceptor police vehicle program.

The long time sales leader in police vehicles, Ford switched from the V8-powered, fullsize, rear-drive Crown Vic sedan to a V6-equipped, front-drive midsize Taurus sedan as its police-car platform for 2013. And for the first time, the Interceptor sedan now is joined by an SUV version, a derivative of the Ford Explorer that's also produced at the auto maker's Chicago Avenue assembly plant.

“The sedan and utility are new for ’13 and to date we already have received more than 16,000 orders with much of the year still to go, with 60% the sedan, 40% the utility,” Teed says at a drive program of the vehicles here.

“Of the 16,000 ordered, we have delivered 10,000,” she says. “We've gotten orders from each of the 50 states,” including Michigan, where Ford is based, and Illinois, home to the assembly plant that makes the vehicles.

“In fact, (Illinois) ranks No.3 among states in orders placed, which shows its commitment to the vehicles produced here.”

While both the sedan and SUV come standard with all-wheel drive, sales haven't been more pronounced in Snow Belt states as some might expect.

“AWD is meant for mountains or valleys, snow or the beach,” Teed says. “We have orders for the AWD utility from San Diego, just like we do from Massachusetts. Why AWD for San Diego? Because San Diego has lots of sand, as well as borders to patrol.”

Teed declines to reveal how many Interceptor sedans and SUVs Ford expects to produce annually in Chicago, saying only that the plant assembles Taurus and Lincoln MKS sedans, Explorer SUVs and, for 2013, the Interceptor sedan and utility and has capacity to handle all of the vehicles based on demand.

“We figure it will take at least three years for those departments with Crown Vics to make the switch to the new car," she says.

The police-vehicle market peaked in 2006-2007 when industry-wide sales topped 65,000 units annually, Teed says. Ford delivered about 72% of the total, or roughly 40,000 to 45,000 vehicles per year.

“The economy is weaker now, and the total market is about 40,000 units annually,” she adds. “I won't say what share we expect to take, but we expect to continue to have a dominant share of the market.”

Recently, Neil Young, vehicle integration manager responsible for the Dodge Pursuit police sedan version of the Dodge Charger car, said he expected to increase Dodge's share of sales with the brand’s RWD Pursuit as a result of Ford's switch from rear wheel to AWD.

“Crown Vic was the market leader, but now that it's gone we're in a position to take advantage and are committed to getting as much of the market as we can,” Young said at a recent Midwest Automotive Media program here to introduce the auto maker’s ’13 lineup.

“We have a rear-wheel-drive car and police favor rear-wheel-drive cars for performance and handling, while they (Ford) have an AWD built off a FWD platform car,” he said.

Young noted, however, that, “We will have an AWD pursuit in 2014, but it will be an AWD car derived from RWD, not AWD derived from FWD.”

Teed agrees police once preferred RWD.

“True, police did favor RWD, but only until we started building an AWD unit. Until we offered an AWD Interceptor there wasn't any AWD police car. And if police favor RWD now, why is Dodge going to offer AWD?”

The Crown Vic police car was powered by a 250-hp V-8. The Taurus Interceptor is offered with a choice of two V-6 engines: base 288-hp 3.5L and optional 365-hp Ecoboost 3.5L. The Explorer-based Interceptor SUV is available only with a 305-hp 3.7L V-6. All come standard with 6-speed automatics.

“Police told us they wanted AWD, because it's better able to manage and optimize the traction and handling with all that power,” Teed says. “With the V-6s we're giving police 100 more hp (than the Crown Vic’s V-8), and with AWD we are giving them the way to control the added power.”

Despite the power increases, the V-6s promise up to 25% better fuel economy than the Crown Vic V-8s for police departments trying to control costs.

Teed considers both Dodge and Chevy rivals, but rules out any thought that Carbon Motors, which once made overtures to enter the police market with a purpose-built vehicle, is a competitor.

“A few years ago they had an idea for a vehicle to meet the needs of the law-enforcement community to compete with Ford, Chevy and Dodge,” she says. “Now, four years later, they have no engineers, no marketing department, no suppliers, no infrastructure to build the car and no dealers to sell the car. So, no, they aren't a rival.”

Dodge's Young agrees.

“Carbon Motors hasn't made a vehicle available for testing and evaluation by the Michigan State Police, which all the auto makers in the police vehicle market have to do. If you want to take on the segment seriously, you've got to do that, and it hasn't.”