For years Mexico has had its own armored car cottage industry catering to even modestly wealthy individuals who desire a little more security on their morning commutes, converting everything from VW Jettas to Chevy Suburbans to varying levels of ballistic protection. Most of the armoring work for cars sold in Mexico is done locally, not only because of the variety of cars being converted to ballistic protection specs, but because Europe's coachbuilders just cannot keep up with the demand.
Reuters now reports that the country's armoring specialists expect a 10 percent jump in the number of cars converted to armored spec and sold this year -- up to 3,284, according to the Mexican Automotive Armor Association -- driven by record crime levels including the 25,000 murders that occurred in Mexico in 2017. Reuters notes that the Mexican armored car market is much smaller than Brazil's, which saw sales of 15,145 cars last year and is expecting nothing short of a 25 percent jump in demand in 2018.
While the homegrown armoring industry has kept up with the local demand for years, automakers and their armoring divisions have taken an interest in localizing production in Mexico. Audi, in particular, has started assembling an armored version of the Q5 SUV in Mexico for the domestic market, as well as for export to Brazil to keep up with the demand there. The advantage for customers is a lower price -- the armored Q5 retails for $87,000, compared to about $95,000 or more for an aftermarket job -- as well as factory warranty. Reuters notes that Mercedes-Benz, Jeep and BMW have already started converting their vehicles in their factories in Mexico to armored specifications
The threats in Mexico and Brazil are a little different from other places in the world where armored versions of common passenger sedans are sold: Rather than targeted political assassinations, wealthy individuals are more likely to face kidnapping or armed robbery attempts, making lower ballistic levels such as B5, which can withstand fire from most handguns but not assault rifles, a more popular choice than something heavier and more expensive like the B6/B7 grade of protection aimed at shielding passengers from armor-piercing rounds or grenades. Stealth also plays a role, since many in Mexico with the means to buy an armored car choose something common to convert, like a small Volkswagen sedan or a Honda crossover, rather than something obvious like a Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows.
The typical B5 anti-kidnapping package includes steel and layers of ballistic glass 3 to 5 inches thick, reinforced runflat tires able to withstand multiple punctures if a car is lured into a trap via steel spikes, a siren system, an armored gasoline tank, reinforced door handles and sometimes even tear gas canisters located underneath that can be fired to repel attackers. Heavier VR7/VR9 armor levels offer protection from common military rifles and grenades, but these tend to be pricier vehicles that typically start at $300,000 new, directly from automakers and a handful of reputable armorers/coachbuilders like Trasco, Friederichs, Carat Duchatelet and ASC.
To discourage potential robbers from targeting vehicles in the first place, some customers in Mexico opt to import older armored cars from Europe that have serviced the diplomatic missions of various countries, cars like older Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Volvo S80 and Audi A8 sedans easily found in used condition.
In 2010, Jenson Button narrowly escaped an armed attack by a number of gunmen in Sao Paulo, Brazil, shortly after departing from the Interlagos circuit. The F1 champion's security driver used an armored Mercedes-Benz B-Class to escape, sideswiping other cars in the process. F1 crews from Mercedes, Sauber and Williams have faced multiple attacks from armed robbers in Brazil in recent years, some just days apart.