"Arab spring" brings new buyers for bulletproof cars

Mon Mar 4, 2013 3:07am EST
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By Peter Apps, Political Risk Correspondent

DUBAI (Reuters) - In a workshop in a dusty industrial area on the outskirts of Dubai, engineers are stripping down a Toyota Land Cruiser to install armored plating, bullet resistant glass and run-flat tires.

In the aftermath of the "Arab spring" revolts and with the wealth gap and social unrest rising in many parts of the world, there is no shortage of rich individuals and governments who suddenly feel they need a little extra protection.

For companies such as Canada's INKAS, Britain's Jankel and Germany's Transeco, it has been a lucrative decade. Even with the Iraq and Afghan wars - the conflicts on which the industry grew - winding down, there are still deals to be done.

Newer entrant Ares Security Vehicles - founded in 2010 but largely staffed by industry veterans - says it has a strong and growing order book.

"This batch of vehicles is going to Iraq," says Marc Rouelle, a Belgian engineer now chief executive officer of the Dubai-based firm. " And the one behind is going to Russia. We are awaiting delivery tomorrow of 30 ... destined for Libya."

With spending cuts around the world, industry consultancy IHS Jane's says the market for conventional military vehicles is contracting by more than four percent a year. But the demand for armored sports utility vehicles and limousines - visually indistinguishable from regular civilian vehicles but protected against small arms fire and grenades - is on the up.

The gold standard, perhaps unsurprisingly, is set by the U.S. president. Barack Obama's Cadillac limousine - dubbed "the beast" by the US media and Secret Service - is believed to weigh several tons and include its own defensive weaponry and air supply in the event of chemical attack.

Several major carmakers, including Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Jaguar Land Rover, produce their own armored versions of key brands.   Continued...

A car with bullet holes is seen during a test at the headquarters of Brazil's Dupont laboratory in Paulinia, 120 km (75 miles) southwest of Sao Paulo April 13, 2012. REUTERS/Nacho Doce