Fleet News

World of terror puts a new twist on fleet cars

CELEBRITIES and high-profile company bosses have started placing orders for a special executive saloon that costs twice as much as the standard version.

But even at £60,000, the new BMW 330i Security is Europe's cheapest premium model to protect its occupants against gunfire, criminal attack, robbery, kidnap and car jacking.

Despite a blackout on media advertising, potential customers are showing a high level of interest in the deliberately discreet sixth version of the German brand's best-selling car.

Michael Gallmann, BMW's general manager of special vehicle sales, said: 'It is sad that we have to provide a vehicle like this, but it is a sign of the times. We have to face reality. Since the dreadful events of September 11, security has become more of an issue for people all over the world.'

Speaking at a demonstration of the new model in Germany, Gallmann said his department was in close contact with buyers in capital cities across Europe.

'In London, we are also talking to customers' agents and insurance companies about the clients they perceive as being vulnerable. Obviously, they are keen to reduce the level of risk.

'High-profile people tend to have homes that are extremely well protected and invariably employ guards to ensure a high level of security when they are at the office. But they are only now starting to appreciate that they do little or nothing about the security of their transport.

'These people have wives and children and they are becoming increasingly concerned about their family transport and how their children get to school.'

Until recently, the price of super-safe mobility from BMW has been in excess of £300,000 for the 760Li and 735Li High Security limousines, both of which weigh in at four tonnes. But the arrival of the 330i Security dramatically reduces the cost of BMW protection on wheels.

According to Gallmann, a former soldier with a degree in economics, companies in the highly volatile Latin American and Asian regions are already specifying the smaller model for second-line executives such as general managers.

He said: 'With a product of this kind, we have a unique proposition and all the indications are that the protection market is growing elsewhere.

'I'm not prepared to be specific about volumes or customers, but it is clear that companies and individuals in Europe are now thinking seriously about increasing the overall safety of their transport.

'People are also telling us they regard this new model as the perfect car for their nannies because it is virtually indistinguishable from the standard model. That reason also makes it an excellent prospect for police forces that operate undercover units.'

Fitted with run-flat tyres, 21mm thick shatterproof windows and a combination of steel and fibre composite reinforcement material to cocoon its passenger cell, the Security model weighs 200kg more than the regular 330i.

But when I put the armour-plated saloon through a demanding series of manoeuvres on the skid pan at BMW's driver training centre in Munich, it proved to handle just as well as the regular production car.

'Drivability and agility are significant parts of this package. If you should find yourself in a dangerous situation, getting out of it safely at high speed can be important to your survival,' said Gallmann.

Designed to international guidelines and conforming with the B4 security industry standard, the 330i Security is produced solely at Toluca, BMW's 3-series and X5 manufacturing facility near Mexico City.

He added: 'We have been building security vehicles for 30 years and have never offered a smaller model before. But crime has taken on new dimensions in recent years, so we felt it was time to respond. From spring, we will also offer the X5 in Security form, and I expect demand for that vehicle to be equally strong.'

B4 certification means the latest 3-series has the strength to survive impact from bullets fired from handguns up to the .44 Magnum at a distance of five metres.

And because protective measures were designed into the latest 3-series from the outset, the car is also bullet-proof at traditionally weak points like body joints, door seals or window edges.

Yet the additional hardware imposes no penalty on space in the passenger compartment. It takes the 90-strong team at the Mexican factory's special unit about two weeks to integrate the various protection measures into the car, and the company is quoting delivery periods of between three and four months.

Gallmann, the man in charge of the division handling deliveries to international organisations, diplomats and authorities, also oversees the team of consultants who negotiate each sale.

He said: 'Customers who enquire about these vehicles at dealerships are referred to one of our consultants and the whole process – including any additional items of specification that may be required – is conducted on a one-to-one basis. We are training the network in how to cater for these customers. As the cars do not require special attention for servicing, the normal network is well equipped to look after them, but as it is essential to maintain the transport security of our customers, we are operating our own pool of vehicles which are available at short notice almost anywhere.'

Gallmann added: 'We try to keep track of our sales and to make sure these cars do not get into the wrong hands. We offer a buy-back service for models up to seven years old, which are either put into our own car pool or offered for sale to selected customers.'

Any option you want – apart from a sunroof

BMW's Special Vehicles unit can equip the latest 330i Security model with a ballistic resistant steel cover to protect the fuel tank.

And customers – said to include government ministers, entrepreneurs, judges and lawyers – can also specify special casing material to shield the car's electrical system from gunfire. But the company's consultants will politely refuse to supply the car with a sunroof – one of the favourite fitments in the UK business car market.

International direct sales spokesman Dirk Karbun said: 'From a security standpoint, fitting a sliding sunroof just doesn't make sense because it is a compromise to security. The more holes you cut into the bodywork, the less safe it becomes. We have many requests, but we refuse because it is not in line with our safety concept.'

However, he admitted officials at the firm have given the go-ahead to requests for other more unusual options.

Karbun said: 'I can't discuss the options we can provide, but we have engineered a James Bond-style system capable of releasing quantities of nails from the rear of the car when the driver presses a button. One of our clients wanted to be able to prevent his vehicle from being pursued.'

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