Ford and GM are releasing new ranges of specially upgraded armoured vehicles for wealthy US customers. Previously only available through specialists, the increasingly popular upgrade is now offered through dealerships, making the process much simpler, if not cheaper for consumers.

Once a niche reserved for ambassadors and heads of state, GM and Ford have become the first US manufacturers to offer armour as an aftermarket or custom upgrade on their high end models through their domestic franchised dealership networks. Ford's new Lincoln town car BPS (Ballistic Protection System) will be available later this year for around $US140,000. GM's competing Cadillac model DeVille will be available in the autumn for an undisclosed price.

High profile customers, such as television and sports stars, are showing increasing interest in these vehicles, especially as concerns about terrorism grow. Such interest has led to 20% annual growth in this market in recent years, with 22,000 vehicles of this type being sold worldwide last year by all manufacturers.

Existing leaders in this field include Mercedes Benz and BMW, who have offered such custom protection solutions for several years in many markets. However, their success in the US has been limited, principally due to a limited demand up until now and also the increased costs of meeting US motoring specifications. Mercedes offers an upgraded S500 in the US market, although sales typically fall below 100 per year. BMW pulled out of the US market due to the high costs involved.

Previously customers requiring such extreme measures as bullet-proof glass and bodywork would need the services of an independent specialist armourer to produce a vehicle capable of withstanding attack from automatic weapons and explosives.

These companies are now being employed by the dealerships directly, for their services in the aftermarket provision of capabilities to withstand ballistic, explosive, chemical or biological attack. Armour as an aftermarket upgrade adds almost a ton of weight to the vehicle and can quadruple the price, although the new moves to make it a process delivered through dealerships will simplify the operation from the customer's perspective.

To learn more about the armoured car market globally, click here: The Global Market Review for Armoured Passenger Vehicles