Neighboring Colombia was a pioneer in producing armored cars because of a long-running rebel conflict and drug violence. But industry experts say Venezuela now surpasses Colombia in the number of armored cars produced each year.
Horacio Zuniga, business manager of the Bogota-based glass manufacturer Glassek, said an estimated 1,800 vehicles are fitted with bullet-resistant windows each year in Venezuela. In Colombia, regulators say about 1,400 autos have been armored this year.
The Colombian market for armored cars has been leveling off because “the people who have the ability to buy armored vehicles already bought them,” said Luis Felipe Murgueitio, who heads the Colombian government agency that regulates the private-security industry.
Still, the number of Colombian businesses that armor cars has grown, and rentals are also up, Mr. Murgueitio said. Colombian companies have exported vehicles to Afghanistan, Iraq and Central America, he said.
In Brazil, a country of about 190 million people, sales have risen from 3,045 vehicles in 2004 to 7,332 in 2010, according to the Brazilian Armoring Association. It says that about 85 percent of Brazilian clients are business executives and that fears of street crime are driving the increase.
While murder and kidnapping rates have declined in Sao Paulo, police say kidnappings are still frequent in wealthy areas.
Young men on motorcycles often hold up victims in traffic jams or at stoplights, then speed away. Brazilians also dread “lightning kidnappings” in which victims are forced to withdraw money from ATMs and then freed.
“An armored car is a strong deterrent. Most assailants know an armored car when they see one and stay away from it,” said Jose Jacobson, president of Guarda Patrimonial, Brazil’s biggest private-security firm.
Those who know armored cars can spot the dark frames around their thick windows. Some wonder if owning one might make those inside targets once they get out. But one thing is certain: the cars stop bullets.
Esteban Papp, who sells materials for the industry in Venezuela, said he saw a Jeep that took at least six bullets in its back window and door in an attack. The metal was dented and the glass broke, but not a single shot penetrated and the driver escaped safely.
The cars also have been put to the test repeatedly in Mexico, where business has expanded along with worsening drug violence and kidnappings.
The top security official of the western state of Michoacan was ambushed last year by men using assault rifles, grenades and a powerful .50-caliber sniper rifle. Her heavily armored car was destroyed, but she survived.
An estimated 2,300 cars will be armored in Mexico this year, compared to 1,200 in 2007, said Fernando Echeverri, president of the Mexican Association of Automobile Armorers.
“In the past, companies would get armored cars only for the head of the business, and in government only the president and top secretaries would have them,” said Mr. Echeverri, a Colombian who moved to Mexico to open a car armoring business.
“Nowadays, companies want to protect all of their directors, and even local government officials are buying them.”View Entire Story
By Douglas Holtz-Eakin
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