The full-on bulletproof vehicle option, fit for James Bond

Article by Georgina Crouth – Sourced from the Daily Maverick

No longer the preserve of security companies, the military, diplomats and the blue-light brigade, armoured vehicles are becoming increasingly popular among wealthy, politically exposed individuals, company executives and others living in crime-ridden South Africa.

Armoured vehicle specialists say demand in SA for these vehicles is catching up to other high-risk territories such as the Americas, Russia and the Middle East.

Stats SA’s crime report for the 2021/22 period, released on 30 August 2022, found the number of hijacking victims more than doubled, increasing from 64,000 in 2020/21 to 134,000 in 2021/22.

An estimated 137,000 hijackings occurring in 2021/22 affected 134,000 people aged 16 and older, with about 63% of victims reporting the incidents to the police.

In SA, the civilian armoured vehicle market is helped in no small part by increases in crime (especially hijackings, robberies and kidnappings), an alarming wealth gap, and concern for the safety of cash-carrying businessmen, affluent families and company executives of global entities.

Local manufacturers of armoured vehicles are reluctant to reveal sales volumes, although they do say business is healthy – particularly after the 2021 riots in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng.

The biggest market for these vehicles is still South America, which should offer South Africans some level of relief.

Leaders in the armoured vehicle market, AGP, offers the world’s most advanced armoured glass for the automotive market. In 2019, it controlled about 37% of the global market and produced some 20,336 vehicles in a single country: Brazil.

There’s growth and opportunity in this sector, particularly where there is money to be thrown at additional protection. Whether retro-fitted with armoured materials or purchased directly from a manufacturer with OEM-approved armouring, customers can expect to pay between 20% and 30% more for protection, depending on the vehicle and the armoured specifications.

B4-level protection, which shields occupants from rocks, bricks and .44 Magnum bullets, would lump an extra R470,000 on to a double cab bakkie, while B6 protection from high-powered weapons such as AK-47s would cost an additional R700,000. On a Toyota Land Cruiser 300, B6 armouring equates to an extra million.

Retro-fitting is more economical, explained Nicol Louw of SVI Engineering, a market leader in vehicle armouring kits to security, military and civilian sectors with branches in Pretoria, Cape Town and the Middle East.

“An armoured German luxury car, providing complete ballistic and explosive protection, could set you back about R6-million, with a year’s waiting list, which is why retro-fitting by an OEM-approved manufacturer makes more sense.”

In 2021, SVI became the first manufacturer to partner exclusively with an OEM, Ford, to offer armouring for the Ranger, across all models. The armoured technology includes high-quality glass consisting of special layers of glass and polycarbonate material to withstand compression and tension forces.

B4 armouring is a typical anti-hijack solution that is discreet and lightweight, at only 280kg on the Ranger Double Cab, with minimal impact on acceleration, fuel consumption and performance.

B6 is the highest level of civilian protection allowed without a special permit, offering comprehensive protection with heavy-duty armoured glass and special armoured steel plates, adding an extra 650kg to the Ranger, which requires upgrades to suspension.

“SDI is the only aftermarket armoured fitter that’s fully endorsed by Ford South Africa. If you buy a new Ford Ranger, you can pick your colour, sunroof or whatever you want in a vehicle, and decide on armouring, which will be delivered to the dealership with your warranty unaffected.”

Louw said that since SVI launched in 2004, they have seen a massive spike in the demand from civilians.

“A lot of what happened ties it in with the riots. Any unrest in a country sparks interest in protection. If you can afford it, then why not armour your vehicle and feel safe when you exit the gates?”

Luxury makes such as Aston Martin, Jaguar and Mercedes-Maybach might be the preferred investment vehicles for armouring, but that doesn’t mean a humble runaround cannot be upgraded: Top Gear reported that French billionaire Bernard Arnault, the CEO of LVMH, drove a classic 1980s Peugeot 205 hot hatch, converted with bulletproof steel and glass, for years, until it was finally put up for sale in 2019 for around £32,000.

Bernard Arnault’s armoured Peugeot 205 hot hatch went on sale in 2019. (Photo: Top Gear)

Online vehicle retailer, Autotrader, has a number of second-hand, more recent models for sale: the cheapest, a 2015 Mercedes-Benz ML ML500, costs R1.6-million, modified to B4 specs, while a 2018 Land Rover Range Rover Sport HSE Dynamic Supercharged, also with B4 protection, costs R2.25-million.

Armormax, Jaguar Land Rover’s approved armourer in SA, has just armoured the first Jaguar iPace in the world and first EV in South Africa.

Michael Broom from Armormax told Autotrader last month that armoured cars are the last line of defence, when every other method has failed: “We’re talking about attacks on cars like hijacking, kidnapping, smash-and-grabs, bricks being thrown off bridges and so forth.

“We will always tell people to be alert. Be aware of your surroundings. Get off your phone while you’re driving. Use defensive driving techniques. But at some point, all of that runs out and perhaps a bit of luck runs out. This gives you an opportunity to be safe in an attack and be able to get away with your life.”

Civilian car armouring is meant to be discreet and not flashy: It doesn’t draw attention and the vehicle is meant to look like every other car on the road.

Individuals who can afford to leave South Africa, but choose to stay, appreciate the armouring option because it allows them to enjoy the South African lifestyle and be safe, he said.

“We’ve secured our homes, we’ve secured our businesses, we live in estates and we are careful about what we do. Where we’re most at risk is on the road because it is a dynamic environment… you’re in a transitory space and you can’t control it.” BM/DM