Our Views: Another sign GM's legacy is fading
On the question of Ford versus Chevy, appearances mattered for many years because of that massive vehicle manufacturing plant on Janesville's south side.
That's why the police department bought only Chevys.
But three things happened to create an opening for Ford, starting with the General Motors plant closing in 2008.
A sense of loyalty had pushed the police department to buy GM but not after GM took the grand prize for disloyalty by closing shop and letting go hundreds of workers.
Of course, the plant closing alone wasn't a good reason to switch to Ford. Local government shouldn't allow vengeance to guide purchasing decisions, and there's no hint of vindictiveness in the police department's recent decision to buy eight SUV Ford Explorers (four are already on the road and four more on order). The department plans to buy eight more next year.
The second factor in the purchase of Ford Explorers is GM last year starting to phase out the Impala, which had been the department's car of choice and made up the bulk of the department's fleet. The phase-out forced the department to consider new options, and the plant's closing meant the department could venture beyond Chevy.
Finally, the department opted for Explorers because their seats are higher off the ground than the Impala's, making it easier to get in and out. Seat height seems like it should be a minor consideration, but with the bulk and weight of equipment carried by today's officers, getting in and out of Impalas has taken a toll on, in particular, officers' left knees, ankles and feet.
Years ago, few employers bothered to factor ergonomics into shaping work environments, but nowadays physicians and employees are better able to identify repetitive stress injuries, placing greater onus on employers to make ergonomic-friendly decisions.
Another option for the Janesville Police Department is the Chevy Tahoe, an SUV, and the department owns two of them. But they cost more than Explorers, and getting Tahoes for all officers would be too expensive, officials say.
The department's switch to Ford appears driven entirely by practical reasons, which is how such decisions should be made. Fear of public outcry, or union outcry, undoubtedly played a role in local government's allegiance to GM during the company's reign. Few officials wanted to be accused of blasphemy by voicing support for buying a—gulp—Ford vehicle.
The Janesville Police Department's recent embrace of Ford Explorers is further proof that Janesville has moved beyond the GM plant's closing nearly 10 years ago. As we've written in previous editorials, the economic doomsday scenarios portrayed by the likes of left-wing publications, such as Mother Jones, never transpired. Yes, Janesville took a big hit. There's no denying that, but the city is now deep into a recovery cycle.
What all this means is there is no longer a cloud of GM guilt looming over local government's purchasing decisions. They are free to buy Fords—or even Toyotas.