Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The Mercedes-Benz S600: A fortress on wheels

The Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard looks like another luxury model from the automaker, but this fortress on wheels has been built to withstand heavy attack without compromising on speed

Published: Nov 5, 2015 06:21:12 AM IST
Updated: Oct 29, 2015 12:30:04 PM IST
The Mercedes-Benz S600: A fortress on wheels
Image: Daimler AG - Global Communications Mercedes-Benz cars
Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard

Among the array of high-end luxury cars that adorn the garages of Bollywood superstars Shah Rukh Khan and Aamir Khan is a Mercedes-Benz S-Class. But this no ordinary S-Class: It is the S600 Guard, built to protect its owners from heavily armed attacks involving military-grade weapons such as AK-47 assault firearms and sniper rifles.

The Guard can withstand 7.62x51 mm rifle rounds on multiple areas of the body from various angles. It relies on ‘run-flat’ tyres that can operate  as far as 30 km when deflated. The windows are made of thick laminated glass with polycarbonate coating for better resilience when fired upon. Its armoured underbody can withstand grenades, and it is the only car to boast of the VR9 ballistic protection (the highest level of protection a civilian vehicle can currently have).

Welcome to the world of the Mercedes-Benz S600 Guard, one of the safest cars in the world. “The S Guard is a ‘fortress on wheels’ for our exclusive set of high-profile Indian consumers who require the highest level of protection when on the move,” says Roland Folger, managing director and chief executive officer of Mercedes-Benz India.

It was launched in India in May 2015, and has since become a coveted possession for those who want to marry luxury and safety. And while the ordinary Mercedes-Benz S-Class costs Rs 2.6 crore, the Guard comes at a hefty price of Rs 8.9 crore.

Mercedes-Benz sells over a thousand S600 Guards a year across the world. In India, it is still early days, but the signs are positive with sales already in “double digits”, says the German carmaker.

The S600 Guards are manufactured only at a special facility in Mercedes-Benz’s Sindelfingen plant in Germany. It takes two to three months to custom-build it, and the company claims that it had secured many pre-orders for the car even before it was launched in the country this year.

South America, Central America, the Middle East and Russia are some of the biggest markets for armoured cars, but wealthy Indians, too, are beginning to opt for it. “They are increasingly preferred by the rich and the powerful in India. The threat perception has risen and the best option for them is a luxury car that looks the same from the outside, but is heavily fortified from the inside,” says a security consultant who advises wealthy individuals and large corporate houses.

Aamir Khan, for instance, ordered the S600 Guard after he began receiving threats for his talk show Satyamev Jayate. Shah Rukh Khan bought one after gangsters reportedly opened fire at the Mumbai residence of his friend and film producer, Ali Morani.

By all accounts, a customer’s faith in the car is not misplaced. It is the highest-selling protection car in the world and competes with models from luxury automakers such as Audi, BMW and Bentley Motors.

The Mercedes-Benz S600: A fortress on wheels

One of the reasons for its popularity is that it has introduced heavy-duty safety measures without compromising on the look or operational efficiency. For instance, armour plating and reinforcing weak spots add weight to the car. But the S600 Guard’s appearance belies the fact that it is twice as heavy as a regular S-Class.

 “With first-class comfort, an outstanding AIRMATIC suspension, powerful V12 engine, intelligent driver assistance system and unrestricted day-to-day suitability, it sets an unprecedented new standard in this segment,” says Folger. It has a six-litre V12 petrol engine that offers 530 bhp (a higher powered engine that is needed to ensure that the car is not hindered by its weight and can move relatively quickly when under attack).

The brakes are built to handle high mass and speed, while the air suspension system has been recalibrated with stiff reinforced dampers. All these measures ensure that the driving experience is not impaired on account of the reinforcements.

The intelligent driver assistance, which Folger refers to, includes night view assist, LED intelligent light system, a 360-degree camera, opaque roller blinds in the rear, a fire extinguishing system that activates automatically, an emergency fresh air system to protect the occupant from breathing in smoke (in case of a tear gas attack, for example) and a special cooling compartment in the rear of the vehicle. The buttons for operating these features are packed in the central console where a car’s cup holder is usually located. Mercedes-Benz offers to train drivers so that they can avail of every possible feature.

Despite all these safeguards, the car looks no different from any other plush S-Class model. It’s little wonder, then, that the Guard is quickly turning into the choice for India’s elite.

(This story appears in the 13 November, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)