Today's world provides big business for bulletproof cars
Mark Burton's customers are either insanely rich, very well-known or hold top positions of power somewhere on the globe. And they are huge fans of his products, because they can mean the difference between a violent death or making it home at night.
His company, International Armoring Corp., (IAC) makes bulletproof cars that, from the outside, look no different from the family sedan or a SUV. Outfitting an auto runs $65,000 to $85,000, on top of the vehicle's cost. The promised "Shelter from the Storm" comes at a price.
"Because of the confidential nature of what we do, we don't disclose (client) names," Burton said, noting that earlier this year a foreign head of state survived a hundred-bullet barrage, thanks to one of IAC's vehicles.
"He called and said he loved me," Burton said. One of IAC's slogans, "Who says you can't buy peace of mind" sometimes hits home in a sobering way.
Last week, the company was featured on the Discovery Channel's "Sons of Guns" show, where producers asked IAC to take an armored B6 Porsche Cayenne to the next level by outfitting the interior with offensive firepower.
That was for entertainment purposes because IAC's products are typically only defensive in nature.
In 1993, Burton an accountant by profession launched the business in Ogden with the goal of armoring and selling two dozen vehicles that year.
"We ended up doing over 225," he said.
In 2011, the company sold more than 500 vehicles, said his son, Mark Burton Jr., who joined IAC about 15 years ago. The younger Burton today runs the related Armormax business, which focuses on protective synthetic laminate and specialty products such as bulletproof doors and briefcases.
In August, IAC moved its headquarters to Centerville and in January relocated its manufacturing facility to the Davis County city when it agreed to vacate its Ogden site to make way for the Internal Revenue Service, which needed more parking for its operations.
However, it also has assembly sites in Hong Kong, the Phillipines, South Africa and the United Kingdom.
The company recently signed a 160-vehicle order for a U.S. government agency, Burton said, and those cars will be built outside the country because of contract specifications, government regulations and shipping costs.
"The bulk of our products are purchased outside the U.S.," Burton said, noting that Mexico is a high-demand market, along with countries in Africa, eastern Europe, southeast Asia and the Middle East.
According to a March 2012 analysis from the Netherlands-based ASDReports, the armored-vehicle market is an $11 billion industry, much of it focused on military production. IAC's primary focus is slightly different in the early 1990s it produced one of the first "Pope-mobiles," Burton said.
Twenty percent to 30 percent of IAC's business is military, said Mark Burton Jr.
The market for IAC's personalized products thrives in countries where leaving the house can be a dangerous action. Some intersections in Caracas, Venezuela, have signs posted that warn of frequent car-jackings, Burton said, and "quickie" kidnappings in Mexico City occur often, to drain the victim's bank account at the closest ATM.
And during war time, business booms.
"During the Iraq conflict, we had to rent two other Utah facilities to keep up with the demand," Burton said. In 1996, the small business ramped up international production and at one point had 14 facilities in operation. However, Burton said they have since been consolidated because of management and control concerns.
During the company's 20 years in business, there have been almost 300 attacks on the 8,000 vehicles it has sold. Their clients include 40 different heads of state around the world.
"We've never lost a client," said Mark Burton Jr., while noting that some have had heart attacks and strokes amid the trauma of an attack.
IAC takes pride in fortifying family-type cars without destroying their looks and performance.
"First we strip the vehicles apart," Burton said.
Windows get replaced with 2-inch thick glass that is detectable only when the doors are open.
The passenger compartment is reinforced with steel armor and the lighter Armormax laminate, which a company video touts as having 10 times the strength of ballistic steel, pound for pound.
A nylon explosive-resistant cloth lines the vehicle floor to baffle the impact of explosions from below, the video said, and metal overlaps seal off door openings to prevent angle shots from penetrating.
"The goal is to retain the original performance of these vehicles," Burton said of the Hummers, Jeep Cherokees, Range Rovers, F-150 trucks and smaller sedans that bulk up at IAC's installation sites.
The added weight decreases engine performance and fuel efficiency by about 8 percent to 10 percent, he said.
Burton emphasized that his outfitted vehicles are purely defensive in nature.
"These are not tanks," Burton said. "We're giving (our clients) the time to recognize they're being attacked and then to be able to escape a dangerous situation."
Quick facts about International Armoring Corp.
1993 • Founded in Ogden by Mark Burton
August 2011 • Moved offices to Centerville
January 2012 • Moved manufacturing facility to Centerville
Global presence • Facilities in Hong Kong, the Phillipines, South Africa and the United Kingdom
Employees • 35-50 in Utah, about 300 worldwide