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How safe are you inside your car?

If you can afford a reinforced armored vehicle, then chances are you need it, says an official from Hi-Protect, the newest homegrown company offering high-profile clients added protection from real and imagined threats out in the streets.

Men at work Instead  of a one-size-fits-all approach, Hi-Protect engages in a ‘bespoke’ method in reinforcing customer’s luxury sedans and SUVs

Men at work Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, Hi-Protect engages in a ‘bespoke’ method in reinforcing customer’s luxury sedans and SUVs

Images by Noel B. Pabalate

When and why should you have your SUVs and luxury sedans reinforced with armor and thick, bullet-resistant glass? To car and gun enthusiast Abril Tolentino, the reasons are many, but his answer is short and simple.

“If you can afford it, then you need it,” said Tolentino, a veteran in the luxury and armored car industry, and VP-sales of Manila-based Hi-Protect, the newest homegrown world-class company offering clients added protection by reinforcing their vehicles with Finnish-made armor and thick glass—between 21 mm and 39 mm—as well as outfitting them with run-flat tires.

Run-flat tires are made of solid rubber, which are concealed underneath normal tubeless tires. They’re designed to resist the effects of deflation when a car’s real tires are punctured, say, by a hail of bullets. It allows the driver to continue driving the vehicle, albeit at a slower speed, but just enough to get him and his boss out of what Tolentino describes as the “kill zone.”

TOP THREE From attention-grabbing Expeditions, Esplanades, and Sequoia, Hi-Protect’s customers are now turning to less ubiquitous and relatively cheaper sedans and SUVs like Camry, Monteros, and Fortuners

TOP THREE From attention-grabbing Expeditions, Esplanades, and Sequoia, Hi-Protect’s customers are now turning to less ubiquitous and relatively cheaper sedans and SUVs like Camry, Monteros, and Fortuners

“I always tell my clients and their drivers that it’s important not to become stationary targets,” he said. “A reinforced vehicle should balance your need for protection and agility, with your ability to get you out of the kill zone.”

Hi-Protect offers several packages, including the standard type—360 degrees of armory, including the roof. If the vehicle is to be used, say, in Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Colombia, or in some remote and dangerous area in the Philippines where “the threat is really big,” then the owner might want to consider having the vehicle’s floor reinforced with armor as well. The total price tag would depend on the size or extent of area to be reinforced, but according to Tolentino, it could cost a client as much as the price of the car itself, or “perhaps a little bit more.”

Hi-Protect’s clients are usually politicians and businessmen who feel threatened by political rivals and kidnap-for-ransom gangs. There are even those who feel threatened because of real and imagined business rivalries, family squabbles, and even rivalries involving matters of the heart.

“I had a client who was bringing in new technology that could drastically alter the industry and put his rivals out of business,” said Tolentino. In short, the client’s rivals are bound to lose millions of pesos should the alternative he’s introducing take off. Instead of waiting to find out if he had indeed incurred his competitors’ ire, the businessmen went to Tolentino to have his car reinforced. But you don’t have to live under a death threat to benefit from an armored vehicle, he added. If the vehicle is reinforced well with sturdy frame and armor, it could save the lives of its occupants from otherwise deadly car collisions, rollovers, and in some cases falling off cliffs.

SOUND ADVICE ‘If you put away money for the future by buying insurance and other forms of long-term investments, why can’t you make a considerable investment in your safety?’ Abril Tolentino VP Sales of Hi-Protect asks

SOUND ADVICE ‘If you put away money for the future by buying insurance and other forms of long-term investments, why can’t you make a considerable investment in your safety?’ Abril Tolentino VP Sales of Hi-Protect asks

Hi-Protect welcomes all kinds of vehicles as long as they’re in good running condition and can handle the added weight of the armor and thick glass, which is typically between 700 to 900 kilograms. If Tolentino and his team could have their way, they would prefer outfitting brand new vehicles to ensure that they’re also in good running condition. The company also caters to individual requests like concealed compartments, say, for licensed firearms, improved entertainment systems, and individual captain’s seats, especially for vans.

“Some clients also insist that we reinforce their old vehicles for sentimental reasons,” he said. “We give in to such requests, but we would have to check the vehicle first and make necessary repairs before we could even begin reinforcing them. We will bill them later for everything, including the repairs.”

One of the toughest customization requests Hi-Protect has encountered so far is armoring an SUV with a sunroof. Since the owner wanted everything reinforced, that meant replacing the sliding glass that doubled as a sunroof with something thicker. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the owner wanted the option to open the 22-mm thick sunroof.

“When we first encountered such a request, we declined to accept the order,” said Tolentino. “But I personally love challenges. When we again came across a similar request sometime later, we said yes. We just asked for a bit more time to study                            the case.”

Hi-Protect is also expanding its operations, and will soon be offering brand new, fully reinforced SUVs like Fortuner and Montero as well as luxury sedans like Camry and Mercedes S and G classes for those in a hurry. It usually takes from one to two months to have a vehicle outfitted. Some clients simply can’t wait that long.

Over the years (Hi-Protect was established only in 2015, but Tolentino has been part of the industry much longer), he has noticed a shift in clients’ taste. Whereas their vehicles of choice before included attention-getting Expeditions, Sequoias, Land Cruisers, Escalades, and Patrols, a growing number of customers these days are settling for ubiquitous SUVs like Fortuners and Monteros. Although these vehicles still cost a fortune to the average Joe, they’re common enough to blend in with the traffic and not call attention to themselves.

“We don’t normally reinforce cheaper and more popular sedans because they might not be able to handle the added weight,” he said. “We’ve also received request for us to reinforce sports cars like Lamborghinis and Ferraris. But we didn’t proceed with it because the owners wanted the speed and performance of their cars to remain the same. I told them that we would have to compromise because of the extra weight we would be adding to their vehicles.”

Apart from using materials that passed through stringent European and American standards, Hi-Protect boasts of Tolentino and his team’s expertise. He employs his long years of experience working for a defunct competitor to ensure clients that there are no cracks, so to speak, in their vehicles’ armor that would allow bullets from guns ranging from handguns to assault rifles to slip through and harm their occupants.

Hi-Protect doesn’t resort to a one-size-fits-all approach. Instead, what it offers clients is “bespoke” armory, said Tolentino, which depends on the client’s vehicle or his or her particular needs based on, say, the threat level and how dangerous the place is. Tolentino makes it sound so casual, but it’s a fact of life, for instance, that some places are more dangerous and prone to violence than others. His team is even mindful of what guns and bullets are “popular” in a particular region.

“I see it as an added service to the client,” he said. “For instance, I would probably not recommend that he spend more in having his vehicle’s roof armored if he is just going to use it in rural areas where there are no tall buildings.” Tolentino might advise him though to have the vehicle’s floor reinforced with armor instead as added protection from, say, hand grenades and some form of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

If the wealthy businessman or politician who needs Hi-Protect’s services is still in doubt, Tolentino has a standard but sincere pitch that more often than not works: “If you put away money for the future by buying insurance and other forms of long-term investments, why can’t you make a considerable investment in your safety? That’s safety that you need to ensure in the here and now.”

 

Hi-Protect is at PPL Building, 1000 UN Avenue corner San Marcelino Street, Paco, Manila. Call 02 513 1231; 63 917675 1168; 63 919 823 7717.