MEXICO CITY - BMWs are relatively common in the United States. But the few that are sold in Mexico are owned by prominent families or high-ranking executives, making BMWs one of the ultimate auto targets for lawbreakers.
So BMW is combating the problem by converting 3-series models into 'security cars' at its plant in Lerma, outside Mexico City.
'We have to cope with the problem,' says Franz Baumgartner, general director of BMW de Mexico. The 328 Security Car -550 pounds heavier than the standard model - has been offered since last September.
'We're giving what the market needs,' says Michael Hruska, head of BMW's worldwide armored-car projects. He explains that the security car's purpose is to avoid minor attacks and street violence, not terrorist assaults or gunshots.
'Demand of this kind of products is specially high in Latin American countries,' Hruska explains.
The conversions are handled by a specialist company, which BMW will not name.
BMW assures original-equipment quality, offers OEM replacement parts and performs service inside the plant, if necessary.
The car is assembled on the regular line, then converted in a building next door.
Among the changes:
The windshield and side windows are three-fourths of an inch thick.
The rear window is just under an inch thick.
The vehicle's rear passenger windows do not open, and the front windows open only enough to allow a hand through.
One goal was to give the car the same level of performance as a regular BMW - even when driving over curbs to escape attacks.
With that in mind, BMW modified the suspension with high-performance shock absorbers and springs; the transmission is reinforced; and a special cover protects the engine.
According to BMW, this is the only car of its size to have ventilated disc brakes, for quicker cooling in distress-driving situations. Run-flat tires are an option.
BMW has built to order about 70 units in the first few months. The price: about $100,000, almost double the $53,000 standard version.
Plans include possible exports to Venezuela and Colombia.