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Centigon: 'We sell survivability' Print

 Company demonstrates its armored vehicle

In the world's most dangerous places, living or dying often depends on what kind of car you have, and who's driving.

Roadside bombs and ambushes by gunmen make armored cars a must-have for diplomats, corporate executives and other VIPs traveling in parts of the Middle East and other troubled regions.

Not surprising, the company that claims leadership in the commercial armored-vehicle market, Cincinnati-based Centigon, has seen some serious business growth in recent years. It outfits automobiles such as sport utility vehicles and limousines with bullet-and blast-resistant armor and sells them to governments, corporations and individuals.

"Anything that requires protection on wheels falls within our mantra," said Gary Allen, the company's president. "We sell survivability."

Centigon's latest armored vehicle, unveiled yesterday at a training facility in King and Queen County, is designed to withstand the types of improvised roadside bombs that are all-too common in Iraq. All armored vehicles will withstand gunshots, but explosions are another chal- lenge.

"The threat in Iraq and Afghanistan is so large today that we have found most vehicles aren't capable of handling the weight of the armor system," said Michael Reynolds, the company's vice president of engineering. "That led us to start doing more work on the automotive side of the system."

Centigon calls its armored Chevrolet Suburban an ECV, or enhanced-capacity vehicle, because its engineers have designed the chassis to carry 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of armor without sacrificing handling and performance.

It looks like a regular Suburban, but the 15,000-pound chassis upgrade includes customized brakes and shocks, a reinforced frame and wheels and tires that carry extra weight and keep running when flat. Its 3-inch-thick windows can stop armor-piercing bullets.

The company demonstrated the armored vehicle yesterday at a training facility in King and Queen owned by ArmorGroup International, a London-based security company. On a former airfield in the woods near West Point, the facility trains thousands of professional drivers each year on how to avoid and escape bombings, shootings and kidnapping attempts.

The cost of the ECV starts at about $225,000. That's cheap compared with some armored vehicles. A fully-armored stretch limousine can cost up to $1 million.

Centigon's largest customer is the State Department, which uses armored vehicles at embassies, but corporations also buy the cars for executives working in dangerous places. Some private individuals -- celebrities, for example -- also buy the cars, Allen said. He would not provide names.

An armored car provides a protective shield, but it mainly buys time to escape, said Richard Weaver, president of ArmorGroup's training division.

A trained driver is also a necessity, which is why ArmorGroup operates training facilities in Virginia and Texas.

"If you sit there, whether the vehicle is armored or not, you are going to die or be kidnapped," Weaver said. "You have to know how to get away." 

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