Carlos Nader drives the congested streets in a bulletproof Mercedes-Benz equipped with pepper spray and a 120-decibel alarm.
He has had bullets bounce off the car and once scared off an assailant by blasting his alarm, which is as loud as a jet engine.

Nader knows his car makes him a target of kidnappers and thieves in a country that has an “alarming” rate of carjackings and ransom abductions, according to the U.S. State Department. In Mexico these days, “everyone’s a target,” said Nader, owner of Protecto Glass International, a vehicle armor company.

A growing number of Mexicans — including many from the middle class — see bulletproofing their vehicles as a necessity and not a luxury.

Nader says the typical customer these days “is a regular guy that works, maybe he has a small business and he’s been approached by criminals to steal his car.”

“You’ll see Hondas, small SUVs … pickups,” Nader said of some of the vehicles arriving at his business.

Extortion is now commonplace in some regions of Mexico. Kidnapping has soared by more than 300% over the past five years and since December 2006, more than 28,000 Mexicans have died in killings blamed on drug-cartel violence.

The violence has sparked a jump in bulletproofing.

‘Looking for protection’

Although exact figures for the industry are unavailable to the public, the Mexican Association of Automobile Armorers, an industry group, reports an annual growth rate of 10% in recent years and values the market at $80 million per year. Automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, Volvo and Volkswagen sell bulletproof models in Mexico dealerships. A bulletproof Volkswagen Bora, a model similar to a Jetta, sells for $70,000.

Some armoring companies report backlogs for a process that takes up to 12 weeks and costs up to $80,000.

“If you brought me your car right now, I couldn’t receive it until February,” said Esteban Hernandez Lopez, managing director of Auto Safe International in Mexico City.

Twenty years ago, armored cars barely existed in Mexico. Bulletproofing was only for the wealthiest businessmen and most powerful politicians. Today, armoring companies say they armor Ferraris for celebrities, SUVs for executives and politicians, and even Nissans for young professionals and small-business owners.

The demand for bulletproofing has created a bonanza for U.S. companies.

Source: David Agren for USA Today.

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