Texas company makes cars impenetrable

November 18, 2011 8:07:38 PM PST
Last week, we were telling you about the rescue of major league pitcher Wilson Ramos, the player for the Washington Nationals who was kidnapped while at his home in a Venezuelan village.

While those types of kidnappings for ransom may seem like problem found only in other countries, they are happening here in the US. It's more common in border states like Texas, and that's fueling a whole new type of business.

In San Antonio, there is a company that has found its niche.

"Our vehicles save lives," Texas Armoring CEO Trent Kimball said. "This will protect against hand grenades, mines, IEDs, that type of protection."

Texas Armoring is an outfit that refits cars and trucks with potentially life-saving armor.

"Bullet-proof glass, ballistic steel, composite armor will all go inside the vehicle and protect it from bullets," Kimball said.

"Where is there a market for your cars?" we asked.

"Really all over the world," he replied.

The company's sales took off after government contractors needed protection in both Afghanistan and in Iraq. It's also popular with companies that do business in West Africa.

But now, there is a sales trend much closer to home.

"We have seen an increase in demand along the border -- Mexican-Texas border or just the border in general," Kimball said.

Since 2006, estimates are that more than 12,000 people have died in drug cartel-related violence along the border. An untold number of more hurt or kidnapped for cash.

"A lot of people that either work or live on either side of the border, they need to go back and forth; if they need to go into Mexico and they have the means, they'll buy an armored vehicle," Kimball said. "It's not a lot of assassination or they're worried about getting killed, it's more of there's a kidnapping-for-ransom type risk.

"It's not safe on the other side of the border," he said. "Even if you have nothing to do with the drug trade, you can be a victim just by chance."

All of the cars here are totally custom. There's no spec vehicle that they make. Each owner has a menu to choose from related to the glass, the armor, bumpers and even tires.

The vehicles cost anywhere from $70,000 to $300,000 to equip. The most expensive one, though, tops $800,000.

"Our main goal is to keep the vehicle moving," Kimball said.

For example, one Mercedes custom stretch limo SUV has all of the creature comforts, but also has electrically charged door handles to keep out potential intruders.

"A lot of it comes from the clients themselves. They actually come to us and say I need something that's going to deter somebody from touching my door handle. So we say, OK what can we do to that?" Kimball said.

These vehicles, however, are not meant to look like armored cars.

"Even though they're driving a lot of high-end vehicles, they still don't want to show everybody, 'Hey I'm driving an armored vehicle.' They want to basically fly under the radar," Kimball said.

It's serious business for serious people.

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