The police department of Westport, Conn. acquired a Tesla Model 3 for police duty and put it into service in February 2020. According to the Westport Police, this Tesla was the first in the U.S. to be fully tricked out for law enforcement. Barry Kresch, president of the EV Club of Connecticut, worked with purchase, customization, and operating expense data provided by the Westport PD to ascertain the cruiser Model 3’s operating costs to date and project total cost of ownership (TCO) for four years, the normal cycle for Westport’s patrol fleet. The analysis was subsequently reviewed and confirmed by the city.
When the purchase announcement was made, much of the attention was focused on the headline purchase price. Sure, the Tesla Model 3 is green. In fact, it is green even by EV standards with an approximate 121 MPGe EPA rating. But is it a prudent use of taxpayer funds to purchase a vehicle costing $52,290 compared to $37,000 for the recent mainstay of the Westport patrol car fleet, an internal-combustion, midsize SUV?
Westport’s Model 3 is the long-range, all-wheel drive, performance version. The police did not purchase the full self-driving system (which their insurer would not underwrite).
The police gave very positive feedback early on regarding vehicle performance. The Tesla Model 3 is able to catch up to a speeding vehicle in less time than a gas-powered patrol car, reducing the danger to other motorists, pedestrians, and the police themselves.
The Westport PD worked with an organization called Sustainable Westport before the purchase to estimate the numbers, resulting in a high confidence level that the lower operating costs of the all-electric Tesla would translate to payback within three years. Plus, there was the tantalizing possibility that the native tech in the Tesla would offer savings on the extensive customization that occurs for a law enforcement vehicle.
Fortunately, Westport leadership is committed to lowering emissions and they, including First Selectman Jim Marpe and Police Chief Foti Koskinas, had a bias to action.
The new headline is that the payback happens in year one. By year four, there will be enough projected savings to buy a new Tesla. This car was never not going to save money.
Customization and Tesla Tech
The cost of law enforcement customization is substantial, more than the cost of the Ford Explorer. The Tesla, due to its first-mover status, was given significant discounts from the two companies that Westport uses for law enforcement customization work. Going forward, that free lunch is off the menu.
Consequently, when discussing the data, I refer to this vehicle as the Tesla “Pilot,” and a second, hypothetical vehicle as the Tesla “Next,” which doesn’t include the one-time discounts to have a better comparison with the gas-powered SUV.
This comparison assumes outfitting a car from the ground up. In real-life operations, if a vehicle is replaced with a like vehicle, much of the customization can be reused.
The biggest single item in the customization is the license plate reader. Here, Westport saved $10,000 (spending $8,000 vs $18,000) by using Tesla’s built-in camera technology in conjunction with the license plate reader system.
As far as the Pilot’s first-mover discounts, there was no charge for added cameras, lights, siren, and the weapons rack. These discounts amounted to just over $14,000.
The Pilot was not outfitted with a prisoner transport cage/partition since one was not needed for its duties. For purposes of comparison with the Explorer, this partition was included in the Next vehicle.
There are two items that applied only to the Tesla. One is a spare tire for $800. (The Explorer comes with a spare.) The other is a charging station at a cost of $1,000 for hardware and installation. These are categorized as “customizations” since they come after the vehicle is purchased.
The department is getting two shifts per day on a single battery charge and charging the vehicle overnight. The conservative assumption on charging is that the charging equipment expense will be required for each Tesla procured. This charge is included in the Next vehicle.
The other item, charged to all cars, was a police computer.
Exploiting the native Tesla tech is still a work in progress. There is the possibility of future savings but for this comparison, no further savings are assumed. The total customization totals for each vehicle are displayed below. The Pilot vehicle — due to the discounts, the cost savings from the license plate reader, and lack of a prisoner partition — has a $24,600 lower cost of customization. In other words, based on the customization alone, the purchase premium over the Explorer has been more than recouped.
The Next vehicle, without all the discounts, still has an $8,200 lower customization cost than the Explorer due to the license plate reader savings, partially offset by the charging station and spare tire expenses.
Total customization costs for the Tesla Model 3 Pilot were $14,300 and $30,700 projected for the Tesla Next. The SUV ran $38,900 in customizations.
According to Westport PD, the SUV’s brakes need servicing at four times the frequency of the Tesla. However, the Tesla’s tires need replacing at two times the frequency of the SUV. The same tires are used for each vehicle. The police have remarked that the Tesla’s tires are holding up better than anticipated, which they attribute to a superior suspension.
The SUV incurs the added maintenance expense of regular oil/filter changes as well as transmission, catalytic converter, water pump, spark plugs, and alternator replacement and servicing.
Calculating electricity consumption was a manual affair involving tracking mileage and battery state of charge before and after each day. Going forward there will be an opportunity to tighten those numbers, as the police have subscribed to Tesla-Fi, which also tracks battery degradation. Based on available data, the cost of electricity was 60% less than for gas.
That gap may improve, as this 2020 Tesla Model 3 does not have a heat pump, which will reduce energy consumption in cold weather. The heat pump is now standard.
Operating costs were calculated based on 23,060 miles driven a year. Based on available data to date, the Westport PD is planning to extend the four-year service life to six for the Model 3. This is big.
Total Costs, Cash Basis
The first vehicle cost comparison charts show total ownership costs (TCO) of each vehicle with subtotals by category — purchase, customization, and operating (ongoing) — for each of the Tesla police cruiser’s four years of service life. The costs are cumulative and are calculated on a cash basis.
As such, the two blue bands, representing the purchase and customization costs, recognize these expenses in the first year and they don’t change. Operating costs increase each year as more fuel is used, and additional maintenance items are performed. The year-four cost is the total spent on fuel and maintenance to this point.
Total Amortized Costs
The amortized cost comparison chart divides the purchase and customization costs by the number of years in the service life of each vehicle. The fixed costs therefore increment upwards each year.
In the amortized comparison, the magnitude of the difference between the Tesla and Explorer is greater because, after four years, only two-thirds of the Tesla purchase and customization costs are amortized. Here the year-four costs for the SUV are the same as those on the first cost chart because the vehicle has been fully amortized.
The total costs by vehicle by year with amortization better highlights the savings. The Pilot vehicle, with its extraordinary discounts, generates an enormous savings of $63,000 ($120,000 — $57,000) after four years on an amortized basis. The Next vehicle not only more than breaks even on a cash basis, on an amortized basis, the $52,000 savings are almost the exact cost of the original purchase price of the Model 3.
For those interested into a deeper dive into the Tesla police cruiser’s emissions savings over the SUV, a separate analysis reveals 23.5 tons of CO2 emissions avoided per year and $8,763 in avoided health costs.
The bottom line: a Tesla Model 3 police cruiser is good for the bottom line!