The truck pictured above was once a standard Toyota Land Cruiser 70-series – before Canadian company Inkas turned it into a gunship of sorts, one of the many armoured vehicles it builds for world markets.
Inkas delivers as many as 50 cars a month and recently sold a dozen 16-passenger Huron armoured vehicles to police in Columbia. But Inkas is not the only Canadian armoured-car specialist with a list of global clients. Others include Streit Manufacturing, Terradyne Armoured Vehicles, and Conquest Vehicles.
Who is buying these tank-like vehicles? Celebrities, sports stars, corporate executives, police forces, governments, dignitaries, dictators, Arab sheiks – even soccer mums in the United States.
Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari campaigned in an Inkas armoured car during the country’s 2014 elections, and emerged unscathed from it after Islamic militants attacked his convoy.
A Knight XV, made by Conquest Vehicles, drew world attention to the company last year when one was seized from a warehouse belonging to the son of Ukraine’s ousted president Viktor Yanukovych.
Conquest founder and past president William Maizlin told Canadian media the sale was legal and brokered through an intermediary. But how it ended up in Yanukovych Junior’s hands remains a mystery.
The Knight XV (XV stands for Extreme Vehicle) is a rare handmade ride. Only 19 have been built since the first appeared in 2008. Most have gone to the Middle East and China.
One is owned by US basketball star Dwight Howard; another by a fellow in Florida whose wife has told Conquest executives she uses it to take her children to soccer practice.
Prices for Knight XV start at US$629,000 (NZ$885,000). It’s built on a Ford F-550 chassis, runs a 6.8-litre V10 bio-fuel engine, weighs six tonnes, is wrapped in ballistic-hardened steel, and its reinforced windows are 3.2cm thick.
Popular add-ons include a humidor, fridge, retractable TV, PlayStation 4 console – and gun safe. These can push the price up to around US$900,000 (NZ$1.26 million).
Canadian-built armoured vehicles are in demand worldwide. When the director of 2011 movie Fast Five sought an armoured truck to match actor Dwayne Johnson’s hulking physique, producers called Terradyne Armoured Vehicles.
The armoured industry could be worth more than US$200m a year, Streit Manufacturing executive Ryan Holden told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). That’s the private companies. “If you count public companies it would be in the billions,” he said.
One such company is Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems. It won a US$10 billion contract last year to build armoured vehicles for Saudi Arabia. Such vehicles are adding to Canada’s exports. Streit has sold 18,000 vehicles worldwide since 1996.
Sales spiked in 2004 for Streit when US armed forces went back into Iraq for the second time. “The phone was ringing off the hook: ‘I need 40 vehicles; I need 30 vehicles’”, Holden told CBC. “It was US military and also private security companies wanting to buy from us.” Holden reckons 800 Canadian-made armoured carriers were deployed in Iraq.
Foreign governments and private buyers choose to deal with Canada for its ethical standing, competitive products and lower costs, says Philip Daskal, sales vice president for Inkas. What gives Canadians the edge, he says, is ingenuity from around the world.
Daskal credits Toronto’s multi-cultural makeup. Many immigrants to Canada bring their technical talents. Many have served in the militaries of their homelands. “All this experience of our engineers, draftsmen, technicians, it comes from people who were living in conditions that were not so great, and we’ve completely opened our doors to their professionalism and craftsmanship,” Daskal said.
Inkas has opened a new division to cater for the luxury armoured car market. Daskal says it will build a “customized, luxury first-class experience of a chartered jet in a cargo vehicle.”
For his part, Inkas founder Maizlin is eyeing opportunities for growth among wealthy families who want the ‘wow factor’ on civvy street. “The clients we sold to are not the types who want discreetly armoured vehicles,” he said.
“They want a vehicle that looks the part. They want something that screams ‘I’m armoured, don’t mess with me.’ That’s what these vehicles provide.”