Mercedes-Benz has hailed 2014 as the year of ‘Excellence’. To kickstart its campaign at the 2014 Auto Expo, Mercedes-Benz launched the ML500 Guard priced at Rs. 2.49 crore (ex-showroom), a vehicle with can survive bullets and bombs. We caught up with the sales head of Mercedes-Benz Guard division, Mr. Markus Rubenbauer and got some insights on these type of armoured vehicles. Here are some pointers from the conversation.
On history of Mercedes-Benz Guard Division – Mercedes-Benz started armouring vehicles in 1928. The first car was made for the Japanese emperor Hiro Ito. The company uses the latest state of the art technology to ensure optimum protection and when it comes to head of states and celebrities, Mercedes-Benz is the first choice.
On which is the highest selling Guard vehicle – The maximum selling cars are the E-Guard, S-Guard and the M-Guard. Sales are more region specific. In most Asian and European markets, the S-Guard is the favourite car while in Latin America, users prefer the M-Guard. The S-Guard has the maximum market share.
On the target buyer – State heads, celebrities and those who are corporate targets are the main buyers. The president of India uses one. Mercedes-Benz keeps the identity of the buyer confidential.
On how long it takes to design a Guard vehicle – Guard vehicles can take up to 2-3 years to design. However, whenever a new generation model is conceived, it is conceived keeping in mind that the same vehicle will also come in a Guard version at a later date. Thus, all components are designed and manufactured with this perspective.
On how can one identify a Guard vehicle – Guard vehicles look identical to their regular versions. However a keen eye will be able to observe that there is a black border around the glass area on the windows. This is there to support the heavy glass which is 25 mm thick in the ML500 Guard.
On the tests conducted on Guard vehicles – Mercedes-Benz does not make military vehicles and hence they don’t have a ballistic test facility of their own. Guard vehicles are tested by certified Government approved ballistic agencies who test the vehicles using robotics to fire various weapons from varying distances.
On the placement of armour – The armour cocoons the passenger compartment and the floor. The engine is not covered. In the event of a fire, the fuel supply is cut off and the engine cuts off before the fire starts. The fuel tank is covered, so there is no risk of a bullet hitting the tank. The doors are very heavy to open, owing to the weight of the armour.
On what happens in case of a gas attack – In case of a gas attack, sensors detect the gas and stop the outside air flow. Air is then released from cylinders which are stored in the car. Supply from cylinders can last for maximum 5-8 minutes depending on the number of occupants in the car.
On special driver training – Due to the armour, all Guard vehicles are heavier compared to their respective regular models. The additional weight on the S-Guard is nearly the weight of an E-Class. Therefore driving dynamics change considerably and Mercedes-Benz ensures that the drivers of these vehicles are well trained to handle the weight in extreme situations. Every time Mercedes-Benz sells a Guard vehicle, it takes two drivers (as appointed by the buyer) to Germany to train them under expert supervision.
On the tyres – All Guard cars come with specially designed run flat tyres which can do a distance of up to 80 kms in fully deflated condition.
On whats’s special about the ML500 Guard – The ML500 Guard offers vehicle resistance level 4 (VR4), which in lay speak means it can protect against a magnum 0.357 and 0.44, as well as a DM51 hand grenade. It is heavier than the regular ML350 by a good 400 kgs and this added weight is taken care off by a 4663cc gasoline powered V8 which churns out 402 BHP of power and 600 NM torque. In spite of its mammoth weight, the ML500 Guard can do the 0-100 km/hr dash in a mere 6.5 seconds.
On maximum protection offered by a Guard vehicle – Mercedes-Benz offers a maximum protection level of VR9 on its Guard vehicles, which means it can fend off the bullets of an AK47 machine gun.