Esteban Hernández
Director General
Auto Safe International
View from the Top

Armoring Advancements Directed by Ballistic Evolution

Tue, 09/01/2015 - 15:04

Q: How is Auto Safe addressing the personal protection needs of the Mexican market?

A: This is client dependent and differs based on their situation. The prominence of car safety is caused by the vulnerability of getting from point A to point B. Some of our clients are shell-shocked because of past experiences, while others use armored vehicles like they would life insurance, making the purchase with the hope of never using it. Auto Safe is part of the WBA security group, and as a whole we represent close to 13% of the market. From the beginning, Auto Safe has been industrializing the armored car business by working directly with car manufacturers and gaining experience with the likes of Toyota, Renault, and General Motors. In Mexico, the government is becoming an increasingly strong market segment for us, but our client base consists of around 10% transportation companies, 15% government agencies, 35% individual clients, and the remaining 40% are OEM clients.

Q: How do you approach the manufacturing of armored vehicles, and what technology do you use to do so?

A: Engineering and ballistics are critical to the process. Mexico is producing a little over 2,000 armored units per year, which represents a very small cross-section of the country’s overall vehicle sales. Our engineering department develops the armor for each car, and then sends it to our assembly facility, although for the more common models we have a dedicated assembly line. The most important technology is found in the materials we use. Once armored, the vehicle is going to weigh more than the manufacturer originally intended, so weight management is crucial in attempting to get as close to the car’s original performance as possible. Currently we are using 600 HB steel that helps us reduce the thickness of steel without hindering its ballistic resistance capabilities. We also use lightweight ballistic glass, some of which has the strength to stop bullets from an AK-47 with just 22mm of thickness. We also use polyethylene and unidirectional aramid fibers. Some of these products are either thinner than the industry standard but provide the same level of protection, or they are just as thick with increased ballistic protection properties. In high level armor, like the B6 and B7, we can reduce the total armor weight by up to 30% by using advanced materials, which translates into a weight reduction of about 300kg. Through these measures, we are quickly becoming the leaders in the field of bulletproof vehicles.

Q: What specifications are expected from Auto Safe as an OEM supplier?

A: The expectation is that the armored version of their vehicles maintains its aesthetic and performance standards. These cars go through years of engineering and are dismantled within a week, before they are then armored and reassembled. In the future, this will continue to cause problems because vehicle manufacturers are adding more features and more technology to their cars. When you work closely with an OEM, you must be able to reach and surpass their high standards.

We adhere to international norms that regulate testing, but they may not include bullets that can be found in Mexico, so we have to implement our own testing procedures. Then we have composites, made of unidirectional polyethylene and steel, which stops bullets like the 5.56 x 45 SS109 that cannot be stopped by such plastics alone. In response to the emergence of two new weapons called FiveSeven and P90, which use similar projectiles to that of the AR-15 but are smaller and can fit in a handgun, we have developed a new level of protection called AS 3AP. Clients know that we strive to offer the best product available, as this quality can be seen in our finished products all around the world. We have over 3,000 vehicles currently being used in more than 15 different countries, so our history speaks for itself.

Q: How important is Auto Safe’s Mexican presence to the global operations of the company, and what does the future hold?

A: All of our markets are important because they provide distinct experiences for us to learn from, but Mexico is a large market and regularly generates high demand for protective vehicles. All of the distinct experiences we gain from each of our markets make them important for our global operations. Additionally, we are always looking into new products, so we will keep heading toward lighter vehicles, better technology, improved suspensions, and a feeling that our clients are driving the original car