Perceptions of growing insecurity have driven demand for armored vehicles in Mexico, spurring an industry that caters to the safety concerns of the country's political and economic elite.
"Last year 75 percent of our business was private sales. As well as top businessmen and wealthy families, customers now include people from medium-size businesses and workers who spend the entire day on the streets and are concerned for their safety," Fernando Echeverri said.
Echeverri is a Colombian national and president of Ballistic Group, an armored car producer in Mexico's Federal District. Himself a kidnapping victim of Colombian guerrillas, Echeverri helped popularize Colombia's armored car industry in the 1990s before later expanding his business to Mexico.
Mexico's armored car industry generates around $150 million per year and 10,000 jobs, reported El País. Bulletproofing a vehicle costs between $25,000 and $55,000, leaving it an option only for Mexico's wealthy.
For Echeverri, business boomed during the administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón (2006 – 2012). But when current President Enrique Peña Nieto took office, Echeverri lamented how his administration "didn't buy anything" during the first year, leading to a 25 percent drop in sales.
Private demand, however, is leading to renewed growth. The highest number of sales come from the city of Monterrey and the Federal District.
Echeverri said no one has been killed in one of his company's cars, although he recounted several assassination attempts. "If they killed a client it would kill my business," Echeverri remarked.
InSight Crime Analysis
As El País notes, the rise in bulletproof vehicle sales contrasts with Mexico's gradually improving security indicators. Although homicides increased slightly last year, Mexico's 2015 murder rate of around 16 per 100,000 citizens was well below the highs experienced during the Calderón era. And, according to official figures, kidnapping rates have also declined, falling over 30 percent through the first 10 months of 2015 compared to the same period of 2014.
Yet these security improvements have not resulted in improved perceptions of insecurity, which could help explain why Mexican elites are increasing demand for armored transportation. This rise may also indicate a certain level of distrust in the ability of government security forces to provide adequate protection from criminal activity.
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Elites, however, are not the only segment of Mexican society that has been retrofitting their vehicles. Criminal groups have also been known to construct "Mad Max-style" vehicles, with El País recounting the 2011 seizure of a behemoth, 30-ton armored "narco-tank" belonging to the ultra-violent Zetas gang.