Ford is facing increasing pressure to do something about the fuel tank in its Crown Victoria police cruiser, according to the Detroit News.

Three fire-related deaths of Arizona police officers driving ‘Crown Vics’ have led to Arizona attorney general Janet Napolitano calling a meeting with top Ford engineers, including vice president for environmental and safety engineering Sue Cischke, the newspaper said.

Consumers could also benefit from any changes arising from the meeting, the Detroit News said, because the fuel tank location is common to the ‘civilian’ Crown Vic, the Mercury Grand Marquis and the Lincoln Town Car – all stereotyped as ‘retirees’ or ‘Florida’ cars.

According to the newspaper, Arizona has extensively investigated the fuel tank of the large, rear-wheel drive Crown Vic and concluded that placing it behind the rear axle puts it within the vehicle’s “crumple zone” in a rear-end collision.

The investigation also found that the tank is vulnerable to punctures by a parking cable bolt, an anti-sway bar bracket, and, on later models, towers that support rear shock absorbers, the Detroit News said.

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The newspaper said Napolitano has directly asked Ford chairman Bill Ford to recall all police and civilian Crown Victorias, comparing its fuel tank design to the infamous Ford Pinto (a 1970s subcompact model notorious for catching fire after rear-end crashes) and specifically criticised Ford for not running crash tests on the police cruisers at speeds greater than 50 mph.

“We feel these cars can be made safer, and that’s what we’d like to work out with Ford,” a Napolitano spokesman told the Detroit News.

Ford has about 85% of the US police cruiser market and built about 60,000 Crown Victorias for law enforcement agencies last year at its St. Thomas plant near London, Ontario, the newspaper added.

The Detroit News said there have also been Crown Vic fire-related police deaths in Texas, Florida and Tennessee but Ford says there is nothing wrong with the cruisers which meet a series of tests that go beyond federal safety standards, including three different 50-mph crash tests.

Ford officials told the Detroit News that the number of fire-related crashes is small compared with many safety-related recalls, adding that the explosions reflect the extremely high-speed crashes – about 70 mph – not a design problem.

“There’s no safety issue with the vehicle,” Ford spokeswoman Sarah Tatchio told the newspaper.

“In high-speed crashes, vehicles behave in very unpredictable ways. The safety structure of the Crown Victoria is outstanding, and that’s supported by real-world safety data.”

The Detroit News said the Department of Public Safety – which oversees Arizona’s highway patrols – has modified its 784 Crown Victorias  with the parking cable bolt replaced by a rivet and ground down sway bar mounts, as instructed by a Ford technical service bulletin issued to dealers last year.

But, the newspaper added, the department has declined to install more expensive replacement tanks with bladders, a cushioning feature that resists ruptures and, anyway, not all Arizona police officers are demanding new cruisers.

”Most of our officers are pretty confident in the vehicles,” Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve Volden told the newspaper.

“They’ve got bigger things to worry about.”