Will Detroit Really Get New Ambulances In 150 Days?

March 27, 2013, 1:12 PM


When Detroit Mayor Dave Bing and Roger Penske announced Monday that business leaders would lease 100 police cars and 23 ambulances for the city’s use, they unveiled mock-ups of new Dodge Charger, Ford Taurus, and Chevrolet Caprice cruisers and Horton Terrastar EMS vehicles.

Most everyone was impressed with the new rigs, but Horton Emergency Vehicles’ Vice President for Sales David Cole was surprised to see his company’s vehicles shown as the future of Detroit’s ambulance fleet. That’s because no one from the city, Penske, or the Downtown Detroit Partnership (which will hold the leases on the vehicles) had talked with Horton.

“We’d love to participate, but someone failed to tell us,” Cole said Tuesday after seeing the Horton ambulances cited in media reports.

According to Tony Pordon, a senior vice president with Penske Automotive, the donors haven’t yet selected an ambulance manufacturer. The Horton rigs in the mock-ups were used because that chassis is good example of standard municipal ambulances.

Pordon says Penske and the other investors are still researching manufacturers and hope to find the “best provider” to supply state-of-the-art emergency vehicles. He cited both the Horton vehicle and Ford’s ambulance chassis at two well-regarded option they’re considering. He adds that even though a supplier hasn’t been selected, Penske’s timeline of delivering these ambulances in 120-150 days still holds.

“Mr. Penske is a guy who doesn’t like to wait,” he said.

But rebooting Detroit’s ambulance fleet by the end of August may be easier said than done. Twenty-three ambulances is no small order.

Cole says Horton normally receives orders of 5-10 ambulances and they recently delivered a 14-vehicle order to Columbus, Ohio. Turnaround time is normally six months, he says.

But Penske’s donor group may be able move through the process more quickly because the Downtown Detroit Partnership isn’t a public entity that needn't follow the formal bid process required for governments.

“If Penske is just going to buy them, it’ll make it easier,” says Steve Spata, secretary of the Ambulance Manufacturer Division trade organization.

Spata says van-based ambulances take about 30 days to build and deliver from the time the sale is finalized, but the more complex modular/chassis rigs that Detroit’s EMS require can take “at least twice as long.”

Determining actual turnaround time, Spata says, depends on a number of variables including lead-time given to a manufacturer ahead of closing the sale, the size of the order, and availability of materials.

Certainly, Penske’s sense of urgency is admirable and the $8 million committed should cover the goal of 100 police cars and 23 ambulances —police cruisers cost around $40,000 and ambulances about $100,000. But given how early they are in the process, putting 23 new ambulances on the streets in five months sounds like an ambitious timetable.

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