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Private Armored Cars Are New Weapon Against Mexican Violence

Reported by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera; Written by Michelle Lodge
Friday, 21 Jan 2011 | 10:08 AM ET

Add $60,000 in upgrades to the original cost of an SUV, and you may be thinking buttery leather seats, interior doors with rare wood inlays, top-of-the-line sound and navigation equipment and such accoutrements as a wet bar.

In Mexico, the $60,000 additions aren’t about luxury, but preserving lives, as the number of violent deaths stemming from the drug wars has steadily zoomed upward.

Since 2007, more than 30,000 Mexicans have died in drug-related crimes and in 2010 alone the figure topped a new high of 15,000.

To deal with that dangerous climate, the demand for bullet-proof clothing has risen. And well-off Mexicans, including many corporate executives, are shelling out cash to have brand-new vehicles retrofitted with bullet-proof materials that can ward off the spray from assault rifles.

North of the border, one such company, International Armoring Corporation, in Utah, is making a mint retrofitting vehicles with super-strong materials and selling them in Mexico. The Mexican market is typically growing at about 40 percent per year due to the increase in the violence.

Armored Car Boom
As drug war deaths escalate, the demand for armored cars is growing, reports CNBC's Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.

“Our purpose is to armor the entire passenger compartment to make it basically into a virtual cocoon,” the CEO and founder of International Armoring Corporation, Mark Burton, told CNBC.

Burton said that now the number of such vehicles bought by Mexicans is between 4,000 and 5,000 a year, compared with 1994 when he estimated the figure was at about 200 vehicles annually.

The trick to redoing the vehicles is that they look like any other on the street, but inside the original materials have been stripped out and replaced armor throughout the cavity, floor, doors and roof. The glass is replaced with ballistic glass. It takes 60 working days to accomplish the retrofit.

Burton is optimistic about his business, given the current situation in Mexico. He said that his company gets repeat business every two or three years, because once customers have ridden an an armored vehicle, they’re not going back to a regular one.

“We've had over 250 attacks in our vehicles over the years,” added Burton, “and these have saved a lot of lives.”

Watch Michelle Caruso-Cabrera's TV reports from Mexico today on "Power Lunch," at 1pm ET and watch our special program "Mexico's Drug War," tonight at 10pm ET.

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