Crime Pushes Bulletproof Vehicle Production to Record High
It’s an exciting time to be a manufacturer of bulletproof cars. Violent crime in Latin America is booming right now. For example, growing levels of drug-related violence made 2017 Mexico’s most murderous year on record, based on government statistics.
The problem has resulted in a 10-percent increase in demand for the nation’s car-armoring services this year, according to the Mexican Automotive Armor Association. Still, Mexico’s 3,284 bullet-resistant cars are nothing compared to the 15,145 vehicles armored in Brazil last year. That country holds an even higher murder rate per 100,000 inhabitants.
The armoring industry expects to see a 25 percent jump this year, as both governments predict further increases in crime. As a consequence, some automakers have decided to simply start offering from-the-factory protection to eliminate the customer’s need to seek bulletproofing elsewhere.
According to Reuters, Audi began production of an armored version of its Q5 in the central state of Puebla in mid-2017 for local sale and export to high-risk countries like Brazil and Argentina. Audi claimed its bulletproof Q5, which costs $87,000 locally, was an affordable alternative for consumers vs aftermarket firms. BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Jeep have provided armored cars to Mexico (and elsewhere) for several years.
Some of their offerings are incredibly elaborate. Mercedes, which has been in the security vehicle business longer than most, even goes as far as offering an emergency fresh air supply to protect occupants from smoke or irritant gases, as well as automatic fire suppressant systems, in addition to the usual ballistic protection. We suppose that’s just the thing for heading into hostile territory.
If you’re wondering how dangerous these countries are right now, Brazil had 29.53 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2016, while the Mexican murder rate was closer to 19.26. South and Central America typically rank exceptionally high in the global murder rankings, along with the Caribbean. El Salvador, Honduras, and Venezuela are among the most dangerous, with murder rates well above 50 per 100,000 people. All of these figures are expected to rise in 2018.
For a point of comparison, Canada’s murder rate in 2016 was a scant 1.68 while the United States’ was around 5.35. But, according to the FBI, violence in the U.S. has been on the rise over the last two years following a long and steady decline, and gun violence is often disproportionately high. There’s also more money there for customers to spend on retrofitting high-end sport utility vehicles with bulletproof glass and reinforced doors. As a result, North America and Western Europe are expected to account for more than half of the total market share for armored vehicles over the next few years.
Interestingly, firearms don’t play into Latin America’s problem as much as one might think. Despite gun violence being a perpetual concern, the brunt of firearm deaths remain self-inflicted. While bulletproofing a vehicle does protect the driver from projectiles, many who purchase them don’t have gunfire on their mind.
“One of the crimes that hurts us most is kidnapping, that’s what we’re afraid of,” explains Arturo Avila, who operates a security company in Mexico City. Avila said he had been assaulted and robbed multiple times in recent years and now drives armored cars exclusively.
Security firms frequently rent or lease specially equipped vehicles to affluent customers worried about personal security, yet direct sales remain the bulk of the business. It’s definitely a strange business, and one that still accounts for just a tiny fraction of the overall auto industry. But it’s also growing. More rental services have cropped up in metropolitan areas across the globe, manufacturers are now providing from-the-factory armoring, aftermarket firms are making money, and sales projections look to stay strong.
[Images: BMW Group; Daimler]
Consumer advocate tracking industry trends, regulation, and the bitter-sweet nature of modern automotive tech. Research focused and gut driven.
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