Alpine Armoring Inc. - 1977-present - Herndon, Virginia
Alpine is a leading supplier and manufacturer of varieties of new and used armored vehicles and armored cars and limousines to clients in US and other countries ranging from financial institutions (private, commercial and central banks) to governments, corporate executives, police and military organizations in the US and abroad.
Fred Khoroushi supplies bullet-proof limos and SUVs to American contractors and government officials in some of the most dangerous corners of the planet. Sadly, business couldn’t be better.
Fred Khoroushi wishes it weren’t so, but the more the globe seems afflicted by violence and mayhem, the better business gets. A former car-fleet manager for the Washington, D.C., city government, he launched his enterprise, Herndon-based Alpine Armoring, Inc., by selling armored cars to banks in the former Soviet Union. A few years later, he found a market in Kosovo, where civilians working for foreign governments and reconstruction projects wanted armored SUVs for protection in the strife-torn land.
More recently, 9/11 sparked conflict – and demand for protection -- across the Muslim world. In Iraq and Afghanistan, the appetite for armored vehicles is insatiable. With employees of humanitarian agencies, construction contractors and the U.S. government subject to kidnapping and ambushes, buyers are snapping up all of Khoroushi’s inventory. Demand is so intense that he’s shipping the SUVs overseas by air – customers can’t wait a few weeks for maritime transit. Says Khoroushi: “We’re pretty much selling everything we can build.”
Regardless of your taste or needs, Khoroushi can deliver. For the style-conscious U.N. diplomat, he might recommend a classy-but-rugged Mercedes Benz S Class sedan with a bomb scan and remote ignition. For the discerning warlord, he might suggest a Hummer outfitted with gun ports for a carload of bodyguards. You name it, he’s got it: limos, SUVs, and riot-control trucks equipped with water cannons. Khouroushi can even equip vehicles with “James Bondish” gimmicks that can spray oil on the asphalt, spew clouds of smoke – or, in an innovation that Q would envy – flash rear blinding lights in the eyes of pursuers.
The Iranian-born, American-educated Khoroushi prides himself on the quality of the engineering and craftsmanship that goes into the retrofitting of his commercially available vehicles. By the time his shop workers are finished, a heavily armored Ford Excursion will be virtually indistinguishable from the wimpy version in your driveway at home.
Alpine Armoring is the Lexus of the armored car industry, positioning itself as a high-quality but more affordable provider. Mercedes makes the absolute top-of-the-line armored vehicles, custom-building them at its manufacturing complex in Stuttgart, Germany. Its price tags push $500,000. Khoroushi claims to offer almost the same quality – i.e. protection -- at a much lower price point. You can take home one of his near-indestructible SUVs for between $150,000 and $200,000.
In his business, says Khoroushi, only two things really matter: quality
and trust. As someone who’s been building armored cars for more than a
decade, he’s got a track record of building cars that save lives. One
vehicle, returned from
He's not looking to make a quick buck from the current “bubble” in war-generated demand. “This is one of those rare industries where trust plays a huge, huge role,” he insists. “Anyone can build an armored car. But in the end, can it protect lives? Does it have hidden weak spots? It’s like having surgery on your heart. You can’t trust just anybody.”
Khoroushi was 18 years old when he came to the United States in 1976 to pursue engineering studies, and he was living here in 1979 when fundamentalist clerics took over Iran. He decided to stay. Since then, he’s managed to get his family into the U.S., and he’s become largely Americanized: He has only the faintest trace of an accent. And he’s taken on the name of Fred.
Until the last few years, the market for armored vehicles was fairly stable and predictable. Banks use them to haul cash, police to transfer prisoners and transport SWAT squads, governments for support in riot control, powerful executives and politicians for personal protection.
The rise of terrorism across the Muslim world has altered the market for the foreseeable future, putting a premium on an ability to respond quickly to new threats and to apply the latest technology. With Osama bin Ladin calling for jihad against Americans everywhere, it’s open season on civilians as well as soldiers in much of the Arab world. While the U.S. military has scrambled to adapt to the tactics of Iraqi insurgents, such as the use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs), so have the civilians who support the U.S. presence.
SUVs were the vehicle of choice for a while, says Khoroushi. Then the insurgents figured out that anyone riding an American-made SUV had to be someone worth killing or kidnapping. Now customers are clamoring for less conspicuous cars – sedans or, better, used sedans, that blend into the traffic. The ideal vehicle these days, he says, is an old Mercedes that might have been driven by a Baathist Party boss under Saddam Hussein.
While styles are fluid, the manufacturing process is well organized. Alpine Armoring purchases commercial vehicles, and then strips them down at shops in Tennessee and Mississippi. Alpine employees aren’t grease monkeys tinkering with jalopies – one of his key employees helped outfit President Reagan’s limousine. Designers use Computer Aided Design to devise the optimal protection for the passengers – not just from bullets but from mines. The company stays up to speed on the latest offerings in bullet-resistant glass, Kevlar fiber, Spectra Shield, ceramic plates and reinforced wheels. Alpine vehicles are certified at every level from A1 to A10, federal grades for bullet protection. A10 is the rating for the U.S. presidential limousine.
Adding armor means adding weight – and a couple of extra tons can change the handling characteristics of a vehicle. Alpine routinely adjusts the brakes and suspension, but SUVs, which are top-heavy and prone to roll-overs, pose a special problem. “A lot of people think armoring is just bullet proofing,” says Khoroushi. “The whole construction of the vehicle is altered. … You don’t want a machine that flips over at 30 miles per hour.”
Alpine Armoring conducts extensive “center of gravity” testing of its vehicles: putting them on machines that tilt them one way and then the other, revving the SUVs up to higher speeds, and taking them on the road to see how they handle in real life. Alpine takes high-speed photos of its vehicles rounding curves at different speeds to see how far they tilt.
Alpine does have competitors – companies Like Armet and International Armoring – but Kharoushi doesn’t sound very disconcerted by them. “We have an impeccable reputation as a result of having been in the market a long time,” he says. “We supply a lot of high-profile government entities. We’re in the loop.” The U.S. government accounts for about 70 percent of his business overall – up to 90 percent some months. You you can’t get a better endorsement than from the top brass and super spooks who run the U.S. military and intelligence services.
Business is booming, but that doesn’t mean Khoroushi rests easy. Given the urgency of the war in Iraq, he feels incredible pressure to deliver vehicles faster to his clients. Every day, Americans are telling him they need to get out of the Green Zone, the protected area in Baghdad, but they’re worried about the dangers. “It pains you” to hear that, he says. “We’re aiming for a way to expedite the [manufacturing] process. You want to make sure they’re protected.”
-- October 6, 2004 New Release - VA Newsire
WHILE NOT AS widespread as it once was, kidnapping remains a perennial problem for many of Latin America's top executives. One solution which has worked is the armoring of family vehicles.
Armored car specialists dot the globe, but only a few companies deliver the right stuff for the right price. Most of the industry's top manufacturers are based in the US and offer relatively quick delivery times to Latin America--about four to eight weeks on average, though super-armored vehicles may take several months.
Each company has its own claim to fame. O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt, the world's oldest vehicle security expert, has armored limousines and motorcades for every US president since Harry S. Truman. The company has regional plants in Mexico City, Bogota and Sao Paulo, in addition to its headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio. "With all the attacks on executives, there's clearly a need for our product," says president Michael J. Lennon. Other industry leaders include Texas Armoring Corp. of San Antonio, which reinforced Pope John Paul II's golf cart-like "pope mobile" for the pontiff's January 1999 Mexico City tour. Alpine Armoring Inc. in Herndon, Virginia, fortifies and leases armored all-terrain trucks to CNN and BBC media crews.
Just about any vehicle can be armored, though the most popular brands are sport utility vehicles like the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the GMC Suburban, and full-sized sedans like those made by Mercedes-Benz or Volvo. O'Gara offers clients five protection packages, though there are two favorites: "light-armored" to safeguard against handgun attacks (price: US$30,000-$55,000 each), and "fully armored" for more serious armed assaults (price: US$60,000-$145,000 each).
Light armored vehicles can withstand fire from 9mm, .357 and .44 Magnum handguns. There are standard safety features--including a bullet-resistant battery, armored fuel tank and tires that remain inflated when hit--as well as options, such as a fire extinguishing system and an intercom system that lets passengers hear what's going on outside the car.
Fully armored vehicles hold up against the heaviest fire, from AK-47s to grenades. They carry the same standards, but offer an internal oxygen system and gun ports for bodyguards to return fire. Heads of state usually opt for O'Gara's most expensive armoring, "piercing round protection," designed to deflect assassination attempts by sniper fire, bombings and chemical attacks. Price: US$110,000 and up.
Other firms offer similar protection at comparable prices, with even more safety options. Now common are dispensers for tear gas, oil slicks, tacks and smoke screens; electric-shock door handles; blinding front and rear lights; and remote-activated bomb detection scanners. "There are a lot of James Bond-ish types of features in the industry," says Fred Khoroushi, general manager of Alpine Armoring Inc. Case in point: Alpine vehicles can be modified with an 007-like escape hatch in case "you're submerged in deep water," he says. Price tag: US$15,000 to US$25,000.
Armoring can add between 400 and 4,000 pounds to a vehicle, creating performance problems that armorers can solve. Alpine, for example, installs a high-performance "smart chip" that boosts the engine's horsepower by 30 percent. Beverly Hills Motoring in California, the "Neiman Marcus" of the automotive accessory industry, equips O'Gara armored cars with more fuel-efficient exhaust systems and reinforces the brakes, "all good things if you add a thousand pounds of armoring," says President Craig Fingold.
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