Though it seems hard to believe, violent crime rates in Mexico have skyrocketed in some areas to their highest levels ever, and further to the south in Brazil, declining crime rates have failed to convince the country’s wealthiest citizens that things are getting safer. In both nations, we now see conditions that are turning factory-armored luxury vehicles into permanent staples in the marketplace.
These cars, buyers hope, will help prevent them ending up like the 25,339 people killed last year in Mexico. Worryingly, 2017 saw a 23 percent jump in murders to the highest-ever level for the nation, with gang violence prompting the State Department to keep some Mexican states on an advisory level typically reserved for nations at war. One can see why armored vehicles have become such an important niche there.
Reuters reports that, according to the Mexican Automotive Armor Association, sales this year will rise to 3,284 armored vehicles, above the previous all-time record in 2012. It’s particularly important in the luxury vehicle market, where high net-worth buyers feel targeted and unsafe:
After being assaulted and robbed multiple times in recent years, Arturo Avila, who owns a security company, now only travels in armored cars to traverse the streets of Mexico City.
“One of the crimes that hurts us most is kidnapping, that’s what we’re afraid of,” he said, adding he changed his car every two years.
About 1.5 million cars were sold in Mexico in 2017, but just a tiny portion were armored, since the cars remain a luxury for the affluent and for companies that require executives to travel in bulletproof vehicles with bodyguards, said Avila.
It’s such a major source of armored vehicle business that some international automakers have facilities in the country to provide factory-backed, up-armored versions of their cars. BMW Mexico, for instance, operates a facility in Mexico that builds and exports armored bimmers.
Audi, too, has started armoring its Q5 crossover in Mexico. Jorge Ochoa Casillas, Audi’s corporate and armored vehicles manager, told Mexico News Daily that the vehicle had armor “standard for common situations, such as an armed assault in Mexico City.” But apparently it isn’t common everywhere, as the armored Q5 is so far only slated for parts of Mexico, Argentina and Brazil.
Brazil, in particular, is a massive spot for armored car sales. A total of 15,145 armored cars were sold in the country in 2017, with sales expected to grow by a staggering 25 percent this year, according to Reuters.
In fact, some thought that the market was capping out a decade ago. A New York Times article from the time reported that sales were at a sky-high level of 7,000 vehicles per year in 2008, up from only 1,782 in 1998. That year was Brazil’s violence peak, as government statistics show a downturn in violent crime from 2008-12, with the rate going back up since but not quite hitting 2008 levels this year.
So while crime isn’t quite at 2008 levels, armored car sales have doubled. That’s likely because it’s not just about overall crime, but about how wealthy Brazilians perceive crime. According to The Times article from 2008—regardless of whether crime is moving up or down—there is already enough violence to provoke a feeling of inevitably:
Officially, crime is on the wane. But as the economy slides and the country sheds jobs, there is a palpable dread that street crime will get worse as well, economists here say. Many Paulistanos, as São Paulo residents are called, say the interminable stop-and-go traffic and the wide gap between haves and have-nots are recipes for assaults and carjackings, especially now that Brazil’s boom times have come to a halt.
“It is not a question of if you are going to be assaulted, it is when it is going to happen,” said Craig Bavington, who runs a tourist agency based here. After being assaulted twice, he decided to buy a used armored car two years ago when his wife became pregnant with their first child.
Sure, crime rates aren’t at their peak there. But it’s understandable how if you’re in a high crime area, you feel a bit of an obligation to shell out for a vehicle that could theoretically protect you and your family if you have the means. When the government is unable to provide for the security of its people, Audi, BMW and dozens of aftermarket armoring companies are happy to do it for a fee.