RAS AL KHAIMAH // Like a Hummer on steroids, the vehicle raced across the sand past rusty shacks harbouring potential attackers.
The Typhoon vehicle, which has a starting price of US$350,000 (Dh1.2 million), has small bullet-resistant windows along the sides, a hatch at the top and a high-performance suspension that curves to any incline. Its purpose is clear: get the bad guys and get out quickly.
"This is why it's called the Typhoon," said Guerman Goutorov, the chief executive of Streit Group. "When you're inside, you feel like nothing will stop you."
Mr Goutorov staged the demonstration yesterday at the opening of the world's largest privately owned armoured vehicle facility, which is located in the emirate.
The factory was inaugurated by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr, Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah.
"To have the world's largest privately owned armoured vehicle facility is an achievement for the UAE and Ras Al Khaimah," said Sheikh Saud. "We have always believed in putting our best efforts towards supporting our local economy, by attracting big businesses and investments to the UAE."
Located in the Technology Park of Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ), Streit manufactures the Typhoon and kits out Land Cruisers, Nissan Patrols and Mercedes G-Class vehicles to withstand rifle fire and small explosions.
The heavy-duty cars are fitted with hidden metal armour and glass that can withstand the bullets from a Russian Dragonov sniper rifle. The tyres are lined with plates able to withstand 10 kilograms of TNT and a central air system to automatically inflate tyres should they puncture.
With sales offices in Yemen, Nigeria and Afghanistan, Mr Goutorov's company caters to the kind of people who consider a bodyguard more than a showpiece. Special forces, rescue squads and ambassadors are among their clients.
Streit aims to have enough capacity to make 400 such vehicles a month as it seeks to meet growing demand from people in fear.
"The market for armoured vehicles is growing," said Mr Goutorov. Streit, which sold $120m of adapted saloons and SUVs last year, expects the market in the Middle East to grow by 20 per cent to 25 per cent this year. Demand is forecast to come from police forces in Afghanistan and Iraq looking to update ageing vehicles, along with Saudi Arabia and post-revolution Libya.
There are plans to make the facility in Ras Al Khaimah even bigger. Streit, which spent Dh80 million to build the 130,064 square metre factory, says it plans to spend another Dh120m to add on a glass factory, employee accommodation and helipad over the next two years.
About 400 people work at the factory, which is operating at 30 percent of its full capacity as it waits to be connected to the electrical grid.
Yesterday, Senegalese diplomats, a Russian maker of bullet-resistant glass and representatives of the accountancy firm Ernst & Young were on hand for the demonstration of Streit's cars. Prices for armoured saloons and SUVs ranged from $45,000 to $190,000.
Inside the factory, pearly Land Cruisers made their way through surgery. Workers welded together the metal plating that protects passengers from shrapnel.
Emerging from the production line, the Toyotas look like something in a suburban mom's garage.
"That's the whole key, to keep a low profile," said Mr Goutorov.
* with WAM