Ruslan Boyko, Sales Manager at STARK ARMORING LLC, a Canada-based company specialised in armoring vehicles for sales and distribution across the world, in this interview with Sunday Ojeme, speaks on the processes of manufacturing of armored vehicles and the dominant patronage by high profile Nigerians.
Considering the volume of armored vehicles your company sold to Nigerians recently, why have you not set up a sales point in the country?
We are planning to open sales office supported by several service centers in Nigeria later this year.
Who handles after sales service of vehicles purchased directly from you; your company or the vehicle manufacturer?
All our armored vehicles are supported by 2-years warranty, which is covered by our company. Our clients can use any reputable service center of their choice once it’s approved by our technical department.
What level of guarantee do you give to your customers in case the expectation fails?
In the event of brake-down, our clients can repair their cars at the closest reputable service center and bill our company for the cost of repairs. In very rare case when there is no one to find the cause of the problem, our engineers will fly down to Nigeria or any other country within few days with their own testing equipment. All the necessary parts required will be delivered to our clients within few days by courier post.
Do Nigerians possess the expertise to handle the maintenance of such high-tech vehicles?
We don’t install any hi-tech military equipment on civilian armored vehicles, so there is only a small amount of standard electronic equipment to take care of. Nigerian engineers are very talented and capable of servicing this equipment with the ease.
With Nigeria gradually getting set for general elections next year, do you see demand for more of your vehicles rising?
We have already received first pre-election order last week and many more are expected over the coming months.
What brands of armored vehicles appeal more to Nigerians.
Our Nigerian clients prefer Mercedes-Benz the most, followed by Toyota, Land Rover and US domestic SUVs.
Apart from dealing with individuals, have you been patronized by Nigerian government?
We have supplied many armored vehicles to government agencies in the past and hope to continue dealing with them in the years ahead.
What is the price range and what determines this?
Price of finished vehicle depends on a base car price and level of protection required, as well as installed optional equipment. For example, brand new 2019 Model Year Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG armored to B6 level will cost $260,000, but equally off-road capable and even more spacious new Chevrolet Suburban, armored to the same level will cost only half of that. The reason is the price of base vehicle from the manufacturer, as cost of armoring of mentioned vehicles is the same. B6 armoring cost is $50,000 and B7 armoring cost is $70,000 for standard armoring of most German and American SUVs.
There is also additional cost for using ulra-strong lightweight materials like Spectra, Dyneema and Kevlar, which reduce the weight, but add to the cost of armoring significantly.
In the last 10 years or so, which period or year would you say you have sold the highest number of vehicles to Nigerians?
We sold most of our armored cars during the last three years, when most countries almost fully recovered from the last financial crisis.
The other reason for increased number of sales is the amount of terrorist attacks around the world, which makes a lot of people to rethink their security level and add at least one armored car to their fleet to protect themselves and their families.
Do you consider Nigeria as your biggest market in Africa?
It is the biggest market for us at the moment, but other African countries rapidly improve their economies, thus creating larger percentage of the middle class who can afford spending over $100,000 on an armored car.
Has there been an occasion when a vehicle had to be brought in from a Nigerian customer to be worked on and sent back?
We never had this need, as American Spec cars that we purchase for armoring have all options installed as standard, and this is exactly what our Nigerian clients want.
What category of Nigerians demand armored vehicles more, politicians or rich businessmen and how many have you sold in the last two years?
There are definitely more orders from rich businessmen then from politicians. I can’t tell you the names of our clients, but we sold directly to our clients in Nigeria 12 armored mini-buses, seven armored luxury sedans and 43 full-size SUVs in the last two years. Our clients pay customs duty themselves, so I can only tell you the total export price they were sold for, which is $9,840,000.What are the special incentives you offer to your customers?
We offer free service for a year with every car sold and discount for every subsequent car ordered from us.
What does it actually take to armor a vehicle?
We start with stripping out all interior panels, seats and electrical wires, right to the metal frame; install armored steel cocoon and bullet-resistant windows, treat every metal part with anti-corrosion agent and install all the electronics and interior panels back in place.
During the armoring process we apply our own development and are also guided by traditional technologies. Armoring materials for our armored cars are purchased exclusively from certified manufacturers to be used as armor plates, bulletproof glass and accessories. Synthesis of effective interaction of specially trained staff and excellent production capabilities provide quality full cycle of work. This cycle usually starts with a preliminary design and development of drawings, and completed by assembly of armored cars.
This is a painstaking process, that requires greatest attention to details and continuous quality control, which is implemented throughout the whole factory, starting from the special parts ordering to final inspection of the finished car.
We produce full armoring quality control report for every car produced by our company and give a market-leading 2-years warranty for every piece of equipment installed during the armoring process.
What are the categories/specifications as regards to resistance to missiles?
Civilian armored cars cannot withstand missiles, they are designed to protect occupants from different calibers of handgun and machine gun ammunition, as well as to give protection from hand grenades and small explosive devices.
There are different ballistic standards throughout the world, such as DIN EN 1063 & 1522/1523, VPAM BRV 1999, VPAM BRV 2009, STANAG, GOST and others, which are available at our website www.starkarmoring.com
The most popular level of ballistic protection among our clients is VR6 as per VPAM BRV 1999, or as it is best known, B6.
Cars armored according to this level can withstand direct hits from the weapons using 7.62×51 FMJ/PB/SC, 7.62X39 FMJ/PB/FeC, .357 Magnum and .44 Remington ammunition.
What more can you say about Stark Armoring offerings?
We offer turnkey solutions for personal protection of VIPs, armed convoys and patrols. Stark Armoring is the leading manufacturer and supplier of the world’s finest quality armored cars in Canada. Our armored cars were delivered to heads of state, CEOs, celebrities, religious leaders and civilians worldwide. We offer armored cars of almost all available in the market makes and models. All new armored cars come with a market-leading 2-years warranty and can be delivered anywhere in the world.
How do you target your customers?
On a regular basis our service use banking institutions, law enforcement agencies, various intelligence agencies, and individuals who seek out for themselves reliable and secure armored VIP-class cars.
We have a reputation of high-quality armored cars manufacturer and our clients recommend us to their friends and colleagues.
Is it only those under security threat that patronize you?
Besides the ability to withstand high-powered bullets from firearms, such armored cars also emphasize the high status of the owner, even though they do not attract outside attention.
Only a small percentage of our clients are under security threat.
Most of the companies order armored cars for their CEOs because of their high value to the company they work for, thus protecting their human assets, even though there is no potential threat for their safety.
What kind of metals do you use for the job?
Armoring materials should be as light as possible in order to reduce the weight of the armor itself, as well as relatively easy to work with. The most optimal variant for the production of armor for a long time remains special grade armored steel. This metal have good bullet-resistant ability, but also has its own special characteristics.
5 mm hardened steel will be a good defense against the possible threat of low-power firearms. However, if you assume that the caliber of the rifle will increase, it is better to use up to 10-12 mm armored steel. This steel provides protection against high power weapon, but also adds to the total weight significantly, therefore it is necessary to consider addition of lightweight materials.
With regard to aluminum, it is one of the most popular materials for lightweight armoring. It is quite light, but does not imply a greater load from the firearm that is greater than 9 mm. The price of the special grade aluminum is quiet high, therefore it is only used at client’s request.
How about the windows and other glass areas
Thickness of installed bullet-resistant windows determine the level of protection. For example, a 22 mm glass will protect you from a small caliber handgun ammunition, such 9mm and .357 Magnum. If you need a protection against larger caliber ammunition, the thickness of the glass should be at least 37 mm for protection from the most popular 7.62×39 mm AK-47 bullet and up to 89 mm for the protection from armor-piercing incendiary ammunition 7.62×54 mm caliber B32 bullet used in Dragunov sniper rifle.
Bullet-resistant glass is manufactured using layers of laminated glass sheets. The more layers there are, the more protection the glass offers. For the spall protection, a 3mm polycarbonate sheet is laminated onto the safe side.
The polycarbonate usually has one of two types of coating to resist abrasion: a soft coating that heals after being scratched (such as elastomeric carbon-based polymers) or a hard coating that prevents scratching (such as silicon-based polymers).
The plastic in laminate designs also provides resistance to impact from physical assault from blunt and sharp objects. The plastic provides little in the way of bullet-resistance. The glass, which is much harder than plastic, flattens the bullet, and the plastic deforms, with the aim of absorbing the rest of the energy and preventing penetration. The ability of the polycarbonate layer to stop projectiles with varying energy is directly proportional to its thickness, and bulletproof glass of this design may be up to 89 mm thick.
Laminated glass layers are built from glass sheets bonded together with polyvinyl butyral, polyurethane, Sentryglas or ethylene-vinyl acetate. When treated with chemical processes, the glass becomes much stronger and can resist higher caliber ammunition.
Aluminium oxynitride or ALON is a ceramic composed of aluminium, oxygen and nitrogen.
ALON is optically transparent (≥80%) in the near-ultraviolet, visible and midwave-infrared regions of the electromagnetic spectrum. It is 4 times harder than fused silica glass, 85% as hard as sapphire, and nearly 15% harder than magnesium aluminate spinel. ALON is the hardest polycrystalline transparent ceramic available commercially. Combination of optical and mechanical properties makes this material a leading candidate for lightweight high-performance transparent armor applications such as bulletproof and blast-resistant windows. ALON-based armor has been shown to stop multiple armor-piercing projectiles of up to 50 cal. However, due to very high production cost and limitation in sizes available, it is not currently used in mass production of civilian armored vehicles.
Does the quality of the materials used affect the price?
Certainly. We use only the best quality armoring materials available on the market. Depending on the allocated budget, we offer our clients the best option. This can be either armoring of their own used car, or buying a new car on their behalf with subsequent armoring. There is also the option of imposing partial armor, which significantly lowers the cost but not advisable in terms of overall protection.
It is important to note that even though our armored vehicles are equipped with a complete armoring and various security features, apparently they do not differ from conventional cars and do not draw additional attention to them.
Would you advise customers who can’t afford new vehicles to go for used ones?
Used armored cars do an excellent job with their core functions, just as good as new cars, by providing a maximum level of comfort and security to their owners. Our company will help demanding customers to purchase used armored vehicles, while guaranteeing exceptional style, originality of design and high level of comfort of exclusive models. Armored vehicles on exterior differ very little from original analogues from the manufacturing plant, if not taking into account the presence of strong cocoon that protects the passengers on the road. Our certified used armored cars combine elegance and dynamism, comfortable security and provide safe driving both on the track and in urban environments. Used armored sedans and armored SUVs perfectly serve as both office and family cars for a comfortable travel over long distances.
How do you cope with competition with others in this line of business?
Competition makes us to invest into Research & Development and better customer service, thus actually helping our company to become better in every way. Without competition, there would only be low-quality overpriced products on the market.
Apart from Canada where else do you have workshop(s)?
Our armoring factory is located in Barrie, Ontario and we plan to open facilities in the West Africa and Middle East by the end of this year.
How would you rate your annual turnover considering the fact that taking delivery of armored vehicles is not an everyday business?
We might not get new orders from private individuals every day, but we are always busy fulfilling the government orders from all over the world, and our annual turnover is increasing every year since 2010.
Apart from luxury vehicles for private individuals, do you have dealings with the military, special force(s) or other institutions like banks?
Law enforcement and special operations vehicle manufacturing play central part in our business. Cash-In-Transit vans manufacturing also exceeds the amount of luxury cars that we armor
Do you also get engaged by vehicle manufacturers to equip their products for them?
We do get orders directly from the vehicle manufacturers in the cases where they prefer not to be involved in the armoring process or simply find it more profitable and quicker to let us to do the armoring works on their behalf.
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