When you think of vehicle manufacturing, images of SUVs, sports cars and family-friendly hatchbacks likely come to mind. There exists, however, a parallel manufacturing vehicle manufacturing sector devoted to products that typically aren’t sold to consumers. Non-consumer vehicles include everything from police cars and motorcycles to fire trucks and battle tanks.
Some of the firms that manufacture these vehicles are well-known to the public. Prominent German auto maker BMW, for example, also happens to be the world’s “largest seller of motorcycles for authority use,” as the company puts it. “Authority Vehicles” is the term BMW uses to categorize the cruisers and motorcycles it manufactures for police forces.
When a consumer buys a vehicle, they’re typically looking for comfort, style, electronic features and good mileage. And some police, fire and military vehicles also have comfy interiors (an important consideration if you’re inside the vehicle for very long periods of time), stylish exteriors and efficient engines, to be sure. But other features, such as armour plating to withstand bullets, gun mounts, and extended ladders in the case of fire trucks, are unique to the sector.
Civilian automobiles and vehicles for police, soldiers and firefighters often share similar electronic gear. Popular electronic features include rear, side and front-view monitoring systems and online, GPS-equipped map displays. The difference is in how these features are used. A typical driver might use their rear-view monitor to help with parking and a GPS-mapping system to keep on the right path during family car trips. For a police officer, however, having rear, side and front-view monitors might allow them to detect fleeing or approaching suspects (who could be armed). Accurate online mapping systems, meanwhile, guide fire trucks to blazes, potentially saving lives by helping crews arrive in a timely manner.
Anyone who makes such vehicles has to keep public safety in mind. When it comes to the fire department, police and military, a poorly performing product might cost lives.
For its part, BMW got into the “Authority Vehicle” market in 1955 when “the legendary BMW 501 and BMW 502 went into service with the Munich police force. These vehicles set new standards of operational practicality,” reads a company history. Since then, BMW has released a series of well-regarded motorcycles and cars for police departments around the world. Right now, some 80,000 BMW motorcycles are being used by police in over 150 countries. In the U.S. alone, over 225 law agencies have BMW motorcycles on hand.
BMW police motorcycles include the BMW F 700 GS-P (“Thanks to its flexible ergonomics and low-weight, the BMW F 700 GS-P is the ideal police motorcycle for use in inner cities or rural areas,” states company literature) and the BMW F 800 GS-P (“A real all-rounder that can handle extreme situations of all kinds,” states BMW). Police cars include the BMW 3 Series, BMW 5 Series, BMW X5, etc. While the BMW 3 Series “is an outstandingly agile performer” the firm recommends the unmarked BMW X5 for undercover work or as a security vehicle.
For a police vehicle in undercover operations or in a security detail, “discretion is as essential as production. Multi-layered safety glass, armouring made of moulded composite fibre components or high-performance steel, run flat tires—all of these protection measures are integrated with the utmost precision, making them hard to spot even for a trained observer,” reports BMW. Unmarked and marked police cars alike can use BMW ConnectedDrive, a pioneering Internet-based mapping system that finds addresses and travel routes quickly. “The vital seconds that this saves the emergency services could be the difference between the success and failure of their mission,” points out BMW.
Just to make it even clearer how Authority Vehicles differ from their consumer counterparts, a BMW “Police Motorcycle Bulletin” goes into great detail about police motorcycle gunlocks.
If BMW is a world leader in “Authority Vehicles,” Pierce Manufacturing is one of the top producers of firefighting trucks. In fact, Pierce is “the leading domestic designer and manufacturer of fire apparatus assembled on custom chassis and manufactured to meet the special needs of firefighters,” according to a 2018 financial statement from Oshkosh Corporation, which purchased Pierce in 1996.
Founded in 1913, Pierce has manufacturing operations in Appleton, Wisconsin (which is also where the company is headquartered) and Bradenton, Florida. These ISO 9001 certified facilities produce a variety of firefighting vehicles, including aerials, pumpers, rescuers and tankers, all of which serve different purposes when putting out blazes.
The company is particularly proud of its Ascendant Class of Aerials, which were “brilliantly engineered to equip firefighters with more aerial choices than ever before. Whether it be weight restrictions, compartment space, preference to ride rather than climb, the lower cost of ownership or rescue capabilities, the Ascendant technology provides flexibility and a wide range of options to meet each department’s needs,” states Pierce literature.
The Pierce Ascendant 100’ Heavy-Duty Aerial Tower vehicle allows firefighters to reach heights of 100 feet vertically and 93 feet horizontally, and the company promises enhanced visibility and maneuverability.
Pierce’s PXP pumper vehicle line boasts standard aluminum bodies, LED lights and a tank capacity of 1,000 gallons. The company’s ENCORE Rescues “are built and constructed using modular body sections” while the FXT single-axle tanker has a 2,100 gallon capacity, and the tandem-axle model has a 3,000 gallon capacity.
Special features include Command Zone, an electronic system “that makes it easier for firefighters to maintain their vehicles, prepare for calls and monitor performance on the scene,” states Pierce literature. A new feature called CZConnect was unveiled last year. This telematics system monitors engine performance, brakes, fluid levels, vehicle location, transmission, system voltage, and more. Data can be displayed on mobile devices and used to generate vehicle readiness reports. Once again, such a system takes on a new significance when you consider firefighting vehicles need to be in peak condition at all times, for obvious reasons.
Business has been good for Pierce. For the fiscal year ending September 30, 2018, fire and emergency vehicles generated net sales of $1.069 billion for parent company Oshkosh. This was up from $1.03 billion in fiscal 2017 and $953 million the previous year. An Oshkosh financial statement for 2018 credits the boost in sales to “improved pricing.”
General Dynamics Land Systems (GDLS), a Sterling Heights, Michigan-based business unit of General Dynamics Corporation, produces vehicles that are as far removed from consumer use as possible. The company specializes in tracked combat vehicles (aka tanks), the Stryker and speciality wheeled vehicles and light-armoured vehicles. All of these are designed for military purposes.
The Abrams Main Battle Tank is one of the company’s prize products. “Called ‘the most sophisticated tank on the market’ Abrams provides soldiers and marines with a proven and decisive edge on the battlefield by combining speed, heavy protective armour and a fearsome 120 mm main gun,” reads a corporate release. The company website lists different versions of the M1 Abrams tank that GDLS can produce.
The Stryker, on the other hand, is “an eight-wheeled, medium-weight combat vehicle that combines mobility and survivability,” states a General Dynamics financial report for 2018. Adds GDLS literature: “When our military receives a Stryker or any of our speciality wheeled vehicles, it knows it’s getting the best equipment and the most advanced technology in the world.”
Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs), meanwhile, are “combat-proven and have rightfully earned the respect of heroes who protect our freedom. The LAV family of vehicles provides soldiers and marines with the most advanced technologies, enhanced mobility, increased firepower and superior protection they need to meet the demands of an ever-changing world environment.”
Manufacturing such vehicles is highly profitable. For the year ending December 31, 2018, the General Dynamics Combat Systems segment (of which Land Systems is a part) cited $4 billion in revenue from military vehicles; this was up from $3.73 billion the year before. The main customer for such vehicles is the United States Department of Defense (DoD).
Becoming a supplier for the non-consumer vehicle market can be a very profitable venture, and many of the prerequisites are the same. Would-be suppliers need to prove competency, standards, ability and have certifications such as ISO. In some cases, however, additional measures are required. If your machine shop wants to provide parts or services for police or military vehicles, be prepared for a heightened degree of scrutiny.
General Dynamics Land Systems, for example, offers a 40-page Supplier Manual for potential vendors on its website. Suppliers are expected to provide detailed data about their exports and foreign trade. Also, anyone who makes defense products or offers defense services or related technical data has to register with the Directorate of Defense and Trade Controls (DDTC), which is run by the U.S. Department of State. This is so the U.S. government can keep tabs on who is manufacturing and exporting defense items, explains the Supplier Manual. Canadian defense suppliers looking for GDLS contracts need to register with the Controlled Goods Directorate (CGD).
So, if you don’t mind extra paperwork and attention from the federal government, the non-consumer vehicle supply chain might offer lucrative opportunities. It’s a huge market that shows no signs of diminishing, as long as there’s a need for police, fire and military vehicles.