Executive Kidnapping Fears Trigger BMW’s New Armored SUV for Russia

Just don't expect Vladimir Putin to get one

As the traditional wisdom goes, a brand that prospers is the one that answers the needs of its market. The nimble R&D team at BMW AG proved this maxim at the Moscow International Automobile Salon yesterday, by unveiling armored versions of its X5 SUV. Consistent with so many other aspects of German engineering, when BMW says its car is bulletproof, it’s not kidding: Both the X5 Security and X5 Security Plus, as the vehicles are known, can withstand a full-on barrage from an AK-47.

“The risk of armed violence—and in particular, attack with automatic weapons like the AK-47—is a fact of everyday life for certain customers,” the company said in a statement.

Also known as the Kalashnikov, the AK-47 is the world’s most common assault rifle and the choice of malefactors everywhere. By one estimate, there are up to 100 million of the rifles loose in the world, which tallies to one gun for every 60 human beings.

While Russia under Vladimir Putin has largely emerged from the Yeltsin-era terrors of organized crime (the country’s homicide rate dropped from 27,343 murders in 2004 to 14,574 in 2010, according to United Nations figures) it’s still a potentially dangerous place to do business—and many U.S. companies do, from John Deere to McDonald’s to Pepsico. A report from security-management firm Globe Risk International lists Russia among its top 10 countries for corporate kidnapping, predicting that “given the continued predilection for corruption among governments in the former Soviet Union, as well as the strength of the Mafia organizations in these countries, [Russia] could see a steady rise in this type of kidnapping in the future.”

Which means that daring executives from U.S. brands might want to head to a BMW dealership in Moscow. There are 15 of them (here’s a directory.)

The X5 series features Kevlar flooring, a steel-reinforced passenger compartment and bullet proof glass which BMW claims can withstand withering fire from AK-47s during roadside ambushes, reported The Wall Street Journal. The bullet-proof Beemers also come equipped with all wheel-drive powered by a 450-horsepower turbocharged engine for off-road getaways. "Sometimes a hasty retreat is the best form of defense,” according to the German manufacturer.

The armor-plated BMWs start at $180,000 and go up to a quarter million for the X5 Security Plus model. Both are designed to look like your standard, off-the-lot luxury SUV.

The concomitant rise of corporate globalism and global terrorism has created quite a growth industry for armored vehicles. Jaguar offers armor-plated models (British Prime Minister David Cameron’s official car is an armored Jaguar XJ), as do Mercedes, Volkswagen and Audi. There are also any number of U.S.-based companies like Texas Armoring and International Armoring Corporation that’ll refit your off-the-lot car with enough plating to get you past an improvised explosive device.

Meanwhile, BMW’s hot new armored car hitting the Russian market begs a big question: Will Vladimir Putin buy one?

Not likely. According to the leader’s personal website, “Putin prefers Russian cars.” A 2012 story in the Christian Science Monitor revealed that Putin was actually planning to toss out the keys to the customary Mercedes and BMW armored limos favored by his predecessors, and opt for a new ZiL model 4112P. Boosting his brand, a ZiL spokesman said that the enormous black car “is much better looking than the Cadillac Obama drives around in—which is a scary submarine, scary to look at.”

Recommended articles