Gutted Land Cruisers, Mercedes-Benzes and even a Sprinter van sit on an assembly line on a North Charleston factory floor with paper taped around the frames.
The mostly high-dollar vehicles come to Canadian-rooted Streit USA Armoring fresh from dealerships -- sparkling new with all the trimmings.
Then they are disassembled -- doors off, windows out, dashboard detached, flooring removed, wiring disconnected, everything gone -- down to the frame, except for what is under the hood.
Then, carefully cut steel plates of all shapes and sizes are meticulously attached to the doors, frames, tops and bottoms of the vehicles, along with bullet-resistant glass before the vehicles are reassembled and shipped on mostly to the U.S. government from the company's only factory in America.
"The average person cannot tell the difference when they see them on the street, and that's the point," said Paul Welborn, government contract director for the company. "Diplomats, CEOs and dignitaries don't want to draw
attention to themselves, but they still want the protection level, just in case."
The 30,000-square-foot Fain Street factory and its 32 employees churn out 10 to 14 bullet-resistant vehicles a month on its single production line, but by late next summer Streit USA Armoring plans to expand, add two assembly lines and eventually 40 new employees to its payroll.
The auto armorer will leave the leased building where it has bullet-proofed about 125 vehicles a year since 2007 and will build a new, 75,000-square-foot, company-owned facility on eight acres along Palmetto Commerce Parkway beside the Daimler van assembly plant.
The $5.8 million plant in Palmetto Commerce Park recently won initial approval for an incentive package from Charleston County Council, a 20-year agreement that allows the company to pay a 6 percent fee each year instead of property taxes.
The company, led by Guerman Goutorov and Charleston business partner Eric Carlson, chose to expand in Charleston rather than moving somewhere else because it feels the location is ideal, Welborn said.
"The climate is right for expansion," Welborn said. "Worldwide demand is up. This is a good location. The labor force is good here, and the port played a significant role in the initial establishment here."
Not only are parts shipped in through the port, but finished products can be shipped out just as easily, he said.
Streit operates another factory in Canada, one in Russia and two in the United Arab Emirates, where a new, 450,000-square-foot plant is being built to consolidate the two there.
"The customer base in that part of the world is significantly larger than anywhere else because of all the unrest going on over there," Welborn said.
The Canadian factory supplies the steel plates, but when the new plant in Palmetto Commerce Park is completed, the intricately cut parts will be made on site, said Tom Wickel, product and quality assurance manager for the local Streit plant.
"The cars are wrapped 360 degrees with protection," he said.
Even the battery and control module under the hood are surrounded by steel plates, to prevent a bullet from disabling the vehicle, Wickel said.
While the federal government buys most of the armor-plated vehicles, ranging in cost from $110,000 to $180,000, the Sprinter van on the factory floor will go to the city of Charleston for its SWAT team, he said.
Also, a Bentley waits in the showroom to be armored as one of the company's new prototype vehicles.
"We can do all sorts of vehicles," Welborn said.
Reach Warren L. Wise at 937-5524 or on Twitter @warrenlancewise.
Streit USA Armoring's move to Palmetto Commerce Park marks another land-clearing operation in what's becoming a popular place to set up shop.
North Charleston-based InterTech Group aerospace subsidiary TigHitco plans to break ground by the end of the year on a 25-acre site across the street for the first of three phases of a $30 million to $40 million aircraft supply manufacturing plant that eventually could employ 350 people. It will open in the fall of 2012.
Greenville-based Immedion LLC plans to build its third 15,000-square-foot data center in the state on a 2.9-acre tract across from the Daimler van assembly plant in the park by next May. It will hire 12-15 people within a year of opening.
Roper St. Francis Healthcare plans to build a 10,000-square-foot data center on a 24-acre tract at the juncture of Palmetto Commerce Parkway and Patriots Boulevard starting next year and opening in mid-2013. Roper is consolidating its far-flung data support facilities in the new center at a cost up to $21 million. It will initially employ 125 people.
Charleston County's Consolidated Dispatch Center will be built between the Roper and Immedion facilities on a 15-acre parcel. The 38,000-square-foot facility will open in 2013 and house 150 employees.