Cash-strapped Brazilians opt for budget shielding

Companies like this one in Sao Paulo work in the auto armor industry, a lucrative industry in a violence-ravaged Brazil.

Brazilians are more worried than ever about getting shot while driving, but have less money in a stagnant economy to spend on protection.

Enter the used armored car.

Whether to provide much needed protection or just to show off, the personal armored vehicle has generally been associated with the wealthy, but in Brazil armored cars are much more common than in most countries.

Industry experts consider Brazil’s bulletproof armor industry, worth $ 245 million (one billion reais), to be the largest in the world.

But with an economy barely emerging from recession – 1% growth in 2017 followed a sharp two-year recession – worried drivers are looking for budget options.

“I like cars, but I don’t feel comfortable spending a lot of money on just one,” said lawyer Mauricio Paulo, who drives a used bulletproof Volvo XZ 60.

This is the fourth armored vehicle for Paulo, 40.

He got his first armored car after being broken into while stopping at a traffic light. The birth of his daughter 18 months ago convinced him that he still needed to have one – and to stay thrifty.

“I need a bulletproof car because of the lack of security,” he said. “I went to get a used car because I will spend less money to get around safely.”

Modifying a car costs around $ 13,000 (53,600 reais), much like buying an additional vehicle.

Opting for a vehicle already in use and already armored drops the price by 10-40%, according to various estimates from dealers and owners.

Another large market, Mexico, armored 2,986 cars in 2017, one of the best years in the industry.

But even in a difficult climate last year, the Brazilian armor industry still produced more than 15,000.

Private armored vehicles are particularly prevalent among the middle class in Sao Paulo’s economic center, regardless of the fact that the mega-city is one of the safest parts of an often extremely violent country.

Almost three-quarters of bulletproof work is done in the state of Sao Paulo, and most of the country’s 150,000 armored vehicles are also in the state, according to the Abrablin bulletproof association.

Neither Abrablin nor the Used Car Dealers Corps Fenauto keeps track of used tank sales.

But industry experts say it’s a real trend here.

“This year the used car market is hot,” said Fabio Rovedo de Mello, director of a Sao Paulo-based bulletproof protection company. “Due to the situation in the country, the demand for used cars has increased.”

New car sales in general fell to their lowest level in 10 years in 2016 in Brazil. The niche market for new armored cars followed the trend, down 20% last year from 2016.

“When the new market does not sell, the demand for used cars increases because a person cannot afford to buy a new one,” said Abrablin chairman Marcelo Christiansen, who also heads a bulletproof protection company.

“Armored cars are much more expensive, so the option was to go for a used car that met my budget,” said Eliane Wakatsuki, 39, director of a hydroelectric company, which was testing a Mercedes Benz. Used GLA 200. in a luxury bulletproof outfit.

Even drivers who still buy new cars and get the added armor are looking for deals.

Last year, the best-selling new car for armor was the Toyota Corolla, the cheapest and smallest that can withstand armor, which can add up to 12% to the vehicle’s body weight.

Homeowners say high crime rates cause them to seek additional security. Some international companies based in Brazil require their expatriate employees to drive armored vehicles.

But whether cars are needed is another question.

Sao Paulo, Brazil’s richest state, had the lowest murder rate in the country in 2016, the latest year for which comparative figures are available. There were 10.9 murders per 100,000 population compared to a national average of 30.3, while the northeastern state of Sergipe had 64.7.

“Having an armored car in Brazil is a matter of status. People are more concerned about their status than their own safety,” Christiansen said.

“The wife gets angry because the neighbor has one and she doesn’t have one, so she says to her husband, ‘I need a bulletproof car’.”

For Paulo, the armored vehicle can bring security, but also disturbance of conscience.

“Those who have a little more resources can protect themselves better,” he said. “Those who don’t may even lose their lives for something small.”

“You feel bad, because people are separated by their economic power in third world countries and it is sad.”

Industry experts consider Brazil’s bulletproof armor industry, worth $ 245 million (one billion reais), to be the largest in the world.

Opting for a vehicle already in use and already armored drops the price by 10-40%, according to various estimates from dealers and owners.

Car owners say Brazil’s high crime rates cause them to seek additional security, while some international companies based in the country force their expatriate employees to drive armored vehicles.

A technician shoots a .357 Magnum from the window of an armored car.

A technician shows the shot of a .357 Magnum through the window of an armored car.

About Rodney Fletcher

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