THE MAGAZINE

Armoring Trends in Latin America

By Carlton Purvis

Other countries are also seeing an interest in armoring. Because Mexico’s southern border is a major drug-transit route, growing violence there has led to increased armored vehicle orders to Guatemala as well. Armoring experts also cite Venezuela as a country where there is considerable growth in demand for armored vehicles because of the increasing level of violence in the country—Venezuela has one of the highest murder rates in the world, and it has seen a rise in violent kidnappings.

“In Venezuela the situation is getting worse because criminals are starting to use [high-powered] rifles. Venezuelan armoring companies do not have much experience with this threat,” says John Murphy, managing director for international sales at ISBI Armoring. ISBI Armoring has been selling Venezuelan clients ceramic kits to install inside vehicle doors to help counter these higher-level emerging threats.

In developing armored solutions for different markets, companies have to consider more than the type of possible violence. They also have to consider the terrain. For example, one of the biggest challenges for armoring companies in mountainous Colombia is providing adequate protection without adding a lot of weight. Adding 500 pounds of armor won’t change how a vehicle handles. “But when you go up to rifle protection, then we’re adding 2,000 pounds. Handling is a lot harder, and the center of gravity goes upwards, so people have to drive a lot slower. Going downhill in such a heavy car, you have to be careful,” according to Murphy.

Sometimes the armoring isn’t about the threat at all, however. Around 20 percent of Alpine Armoring’s orders are what Khoroushi calls “prestige orders.” These are orders from people who “want to show that they are important enough to be protected and rich enough to spend the money on an armored vehicle."

With that market in mind, Bentley revealed in August that it is considering launching a line of armored vehicles for customers in Latin America, Russia, and the Middle East. An unarmored Bentley SUV costs around $140,000. Bentley's finance chief Jan-Henrik Lafrentz told The Guardian in August that the demand for these pricey vehicles is in Latin America in particular.

However, the crime rate and the general level of threat perceived throughout the society do factor in to the decision to buy car armor. This is reflected in the fact that not all of Latin America fits this armoring profile.

“Very little armoring goes on in Argentina, Ecuador, Peru, and Chile, because they are a lot safer than, say, Colombia,” says Murphy. And even in Colombia, Murphy says that most orders are for small arms armor, and experts say the demand is declining because most of the people in Colombia who can afford armored vehicles have purchased them already.
 

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