Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Idex 2019: Inside the blast-proof limo that keeps Putin safe

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed among those who has inspected the vehicle this week

The Aurus Senat limousine. The National
The Aurus Senat limousine. The National

It can withstand bomb blasts, shots from a Dragunov sniper rifle and is impervious to chemical and gas attacks. Even cracks between doors – a vulnerability in other armoured vehicles – have been rigorously tested to make sure they can withstand heavy fire.

But when you are making vehicles for image-conscious world leaders - Vladimir Putin of Russia was the first customer - the small details are important too.

The interior of the Aurus armoured limousine. Victor Besa / The National.
The interior of the Aurus armoured limousine. Victor Besa / The National.

That is why the Aurus Senat limousine, on show in private this week at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi, has been designed with extra-long doors - to ensure the occupant’s trousers do not get dirty when they get out.

“This is a strong requirement, because if the president steps out, and has dirty trousers, it looks funny," “We have made the doors longer than the body,” said Franz Gerhard Hilgert, Aurus chief executive. "These are some small things that are important.”

The first Aurus limousine was delivered to the Russian government, which uses it in its Presidential motorcade, in May 2018. The second, for Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, came into operation over the last fortnight.

The version of the vehicle on display in the UAE is white, while President Putin’s is black. There are also some secret features in the Russian head of state’s car, which travels with him around the world, which Mr Hilgert said he cannot discuss although both weigh around seven tonnes and are almost seven metres long. A total torque of the hybrid combustion and electric engine is almost 30 per cent higher that that of a typical lorry.

The top-end cars can be kitted out with state-of-the-art communications systems, with clients taking an interest in the design and manufacture of the vehicles from start to finish, Mr Hilgert said.

The interior of the Aurus armoured limo, on display at IDEX 2019. Victor Besa / The National.
The interior of the Aurus armoured limo, on display at IDEX 2019. Victor Besa / The National.

Two of four seats in the back are retractable and, for extra security, occupants who wish to close the car's widow curtains are still able to see what is happening outside the vehicle in real-time via live CCTV footage aired on internal screens.

“These vehicles are very sensitive, with the highest level of security and safety,” Mr Hilgert said. “If a special client wants to have it he does not want to have this vehicle transported like a normal car [and risk it being left unsupervised].

"It must be all the time under the control of the client. If it’s in service, we have 24 hours cameras watching it from all angles. If he wants, we will use air freight to get it to them – he will send his people, who will always be around the car.”

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, inspected the limo, which took four years to develop, this week.

President Vladimir Putin arrives by his Aurus Senat limousine to a flower laying ceremony at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, in November. The leader was keen that Russia build its own state vehicles. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Image
President Vladimir Putin arrives by his Aurus Senat limousine to a flower laying ceremony at Red Square in Moscow, Russia, in November. The leader was keen that Russia build its own state vehicles. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Image

And while only a small number have been made so far, Aurus is to begin commercial production later this year. A smaller sedan version has also been produced, which there are plans for SUV, van, coupe and cabrio models in future.

The Tawazun Economic Council, which is tasked with the development of a UAE defence industry, has invested Dh460 million in Aurus, it was announced this week, representing a 36 per cent stake.

The project to build the car begun after President Putin decided it was important Russia moved away from relying on foreign manufacturers, such as Mercedes, for state vehicles.

The Aurus cars are seen as the heir to the Russian-made sedans made by ZiL, which transported Soviet leaders for decades.

The brand was established last year and is run by Russia’s Central Scientific Research Automobile and Automotive Engine Institute, known as NAMI, which will maintain a majority stake.

The Tawazun Economic Council investment will be used to help the company to move to commercial production. It is planned that eventually 5,000 Aurus vehicles will be manufactured every year from a plant in Tatarstan, which is around 850km east of Moscow.

The company will target the European market as well as the Middle East, with both armoured and non-armoured versions to be available. Prices will be revealed in April.

Franz Gerhard Hilgert, CEO of Aurus, in the Senat limousine. Victor Besa / The National. 
Franz Gerhard Hilgert, CEO of Aurus, in the Senat limousine. Victor Besa / The National. 

“The speciality of this design is that the vehicle was constructed from the very beginning as an armoured car,” Mr Hilgert said. “Other brands dismantle existing cars and start welding, and so on. It is one piece of steel, that is the key protection.

“The interested clients [in armoured cars] you can cluster in groups – it’s governmental, who have their regulations to fulfil for national security reasons.

"Then, in commercial areas, the banks or big companies have the same rules. Their key people have to use an armoured vehicle. Then there is the private audience who like to have it as well.”

Updated: February 21, 2019 12:36 PM

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