The 2020 Range Rover Sentinel, which debuted in March, contains more than a ton of ballistic steel plate and armored glass inside its body.
It can withstand a pipe bomb exploding from point-blank range and can weather rounds of bullets shot by AK-47s, AR-15s, and 9 mm pistols. Its 510-horsepower V8 engine can ford deep water, descend steep mountains, and sprint at 120 mph — an admirable feat considering that the Sentinel weighs 10,000 pounds, more than twice the weight of a regular Range Rover.
It also has a hatch that allows those inside to escape through the rear luggage compartment, in case the doors should become unusable. Engineered and built by Land Rover’s Special Vehicle Operations team in West Midlands, England, it’s not the first bulletproof vehicle Land Rover has made in-house, but it’s certainly the toughest.
The Sentinel’s release highlights a segment of the automotive industry that often goes unnoticed: the manufacture and sale of armored vehicles. And today, there’s growing demand from consumers willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for them.
“A lot of regions around the world are developing economically very quickly, and defense expenditures are correlating with that, and we have been scaling with it,” says Philip Nadjafov, whose family founded Toronto-based Isotrex in 2005. He says business overseas, especially to fulfill UN peacekeeping and government contracts, has risen precipitously over the last three years. “People are investing in their security.”
While brands such as Audi, BMW, and Land Rover already offer in-house bulletproofing options, it’s the rise of sales by the many private providers across the U.S. that indicates the real profits to be made. No comprehensive data exist for the industry at large, but interviews with many of them have set market growth expectations near double digits, year-over-year, for the foreseeable future.
In San Antonio, Texas, Lawrence Kosub at Texas Armoring Corp., which opened in 1997, is laying plans to open a facility in Central America that can manufacture 200 armored vehicles per year, up from the 50 he now produces annually. In Utah, ArmorMax Chief Executive Officer Mark Burton is working on a government contract to deliver 140 Ford vehicles to various agencies by early 2020.
He’s built manufacturing plants in eight companies over the past two decades, and next year, Burton will open an outpost in India.
Some outfits, such as O’Gara Group, have been around for more than 100 years; it was providing armored limousines in the 1940s, when Harry Truman was president-and a client. Others sprouted more recently: Manhattan Armor was founded in New York City in 1979; International Armoring Corporation was founded in Ogden, Utah, in 1993; and AddArmor was founded in Jackson, Wyoming, in 2017. They remain bolstered by demand from what feels like every corner of the globe: From Brazil to Ukraine, Nigeria to the Philippines, everybody wants immunity from any imminent threat.
An estimated 200,000 to 300,000 armored vehicles circulate on streets worldwide, with Brazil leading with the highest per capita number of armored vehicles in the world, according to Texas Armoring Corp. Sâo Paolo alone currently receives 800 armored vehicles a month.
But where the perennial hotspot is Brazil, and need has been white-hot in Mexico, demand now comes from West African nations such as Nigeria, whose growing economy is the largest on the continent. It’s also coming from the U.S., where outfits such as Texas Armoring Corp. have seen business double. At ArmorMax, the U.S. comprises nearly 80% of business, an inverse flip from 20 years ago. Sales to American clients at the IAC subsidiary have increased eightfold since 1994.
”People are worried about random acts of violence,” Burton says, mentioning he had just spoken on the phone with a prospective private client in Chicago. “They’re the attorneys, they are the doctors, the business executives. They’re worried about their families or their wives being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
It’s a generalized “unsettled” feeling that has sparked the rise, he adds. “People just want peace of mind as they drive around.”