It's a first for police cars: Doors that can protect against armor-piercing bullets.
Ford will soon be offering the doors on its Police Interceptor sedans and SUVs. They'll be the first in the U.S. to meet the Justice Department's highest standard for body armor, the equivalent of a bulky SWAT team vest.
The doors are designed to stop a .30-caliber bullet shot from a high-powered rifle like an AK-47. That's more powerful ammunition than many soldiers carry.
Ford has offered factory-installed ballistic panels on its police car doors since 2008. But previous versions protected against handgun fire and non-armor piercing bullets. Between 5 percent and 10 percent of police vehicles Ford sells have the optional ballistic protection, which costs around $1,500 per door.
But Randy Freiburger, a Ford engineer who works with police customers, said the company was getting frequent requests for better protection, particularly from police in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. So engineers starting working on upgraded panels.
"In some places outside the U.S., they face the armor-piercing threat on a daily basis," Freiburger said. "This is the price of entry for those markets."
Ford was also facing pressure from its rivals. Dodge began offering non-armor piercing protection on police versions of the Charger in 2012. Ford controlled 60 percent of the U.S. police vehicle market in 2015.
Other automakers, including Land Rover and Audi, make vehicles from high-strength steel that can protect against armor-piercing bullets. But the cost would likely be out of reach for most police departments. The armored Range Rover Sentinel, which is not sold in the U.S., starts at $569,000. A Ford Police Interceptor SUV — which is based on an Explorer — starts around $30,000.
Ford's ballistic panels — which cover most of the door — have two layers. The outside is made from ballistic-grade ceramic tile. When a bullet hits the tile, it disperses the energy and starts to break the bullet into pieces. The inner layer is made from aramid fiber, which is the same material used for Kevlar. The fiber catches the shrapnel from the bullet.