convoy of shiny black vehicles smoothly snakes its way along
Pennsylvania Avenue and glides into the grounds of the White
House, barely attracting a second glance from the ever present
tourists and curious bystanders.
you are close enough to notice the small state pennants fluttering
discreetly on each side of the windshield, there is nothing
about the well-appointed, black sport utility vehicle to give
onlookers a clue as to the importance of its passenger: King
Abdullah II of Jordan on his way to a state visit with President
"There was nothing conspicuous or ostentatious to indicate
a royal leader was part of that particular entourage. And
that's the way it was meant to be," custom SUV manufacturer
Howard Becker told ValueRich magazine.
"We felt very honored. King Abdullah's drive to the
White House was the maiden voyage of one of our custom-designed
Excursion SUVs, tailor-made down to the last detail by our
company to the specifications requested by King Abdullah himself."
Jordan's monarch is only one name on an impressive, fast-growing
list of international personalities who are turning to efficient,
luxurious, and discreet customized SUVs - primarily Ford Excursions,
GMC Denalis and Cadillac ESVs - and leaving behind the more
overt trappings of power and wealth such as in-your-face stretch
With this in mind, it would be stating the obvious that Becker
and his exciting vehicles happen to be in the right place
at the right time - providing refreshingly new and welcome
means of transportation for security-conscious executives,
celebrities and assorted dignitaries.
But it's also true that nothing happens in business by pure
accident. Becker Automotive owes the major share of its success
to president and CEO Becker's entrepreneurial skills in developing
the modest car radio business he took over from his father.
With degrees in business and psychology, he is more that
equipped to cope with present challenges and deal with future
When a well-meaning critic suggested that his SUV limousines
were a tad pricey, Becker responded succinctly: "They're
certainly not overly pricey. If you consider the value of
a businessman's time gained by commuting in one of these,
it virtually pays for itself"
For obvious reasons, Becker is reluctant to go into great
detail about celebrity clients whether they're entertainers,
captains of industry, sports figures, politicians or heads
Suffice to say, past and present customers of this unique
privately owned company include Michael Douglas, Jane Fonda,
Steven Spielberg, Bruce Springsteen, Sylvester Stallone, Barbara
Streisand, Tiger Woods, King Abdullah II and corporate customers
such as Dell, Disney and Dreamworks.
Becker Automotive Design, based in Oxnard, Calif. - where a
staff of 40 is currently working on 15 vehicles at a time -
has an early foothold in
a business that, for obvious reasons, is going to be around
for some time to come.
SUVs are no longer most popular as the transportation choice
of harassed soccer moms. They also have evolved onto today's
luxury stealth vehicles - vehicles that appear everyday ordinary
from the outside, but inside are a pleasure to behold. As
Becker himself says, "They've become the elite vehicles
in today's world, popular with every segment of the population."
For those requiring more room and seating, or the added comfort
of recliner seating for four to six executives, Becker offers
custom conversions of Ford and Mercedes Benz Sprinter Vans
with a variety of floor plans that include everything from
luxury shuttle seating to limousine configurations inside
a completely private compartment.
To establish itself as the unchallenged design group for
these vehicles, Becker has come up with the ultimate transportation
for all occasions - a high-concept but low-key d ream machine
in which you can travel in style, feel secure and be productive,
while remaining incognito.
It's a mobile office and conference room equipped with on
onboard PC or personal laptop docking station, wireless keyboard,
mouse, printer, and wireless Internet connection via cellular
or secure satellite networks. The computing desktop id displayed
on the 20- or 30-inch screen perfectly coordinated into an
entertainment system on a par with the best home theater instillations.
The end result is a high-tech communications and entertainment
center where international movers and shakers can conduct
their business while they are securely in the lap of luxury.
And for the seriously security-conscious, one fascinating
extra is the option of automotive armoring. Based on your
risk assessment, Becker's vehicles can be armored to .44 magnum
handgun or powerful assault rifle specifications, and include
top-echelon features, such as bullet traps in all the doors,
designed to deflect hot shrapnel, and fully functional windows.
Additional security features include custom machined anti-grab
door handles, ram bumpers, Runflat tires, remote engine start
and GPS tracking. And, of course, the best security feature
of all is the inconspicuous exterior.
Getting into the armored car business was not a Becker business
plan. But clients kept asking for the security and Becker
acquiesced - but only if the security innovations dovetailed
with his discreet transportation concept. Unlike most armored
vehicles, Becker's conversions remain completely luxurious
and appear normal, inside and out. "Unless you've been
in an armored vehicle, you have no idea how oppressive they
can be," says Becker. "With our design, you hardly
notice anything unusual."
Sitting inside a Becker product is an experience in itself.
Once you got over the initial thrill of an impressive array
of state-of-the-art entertainment and wireless communication
installations, you can relax and enjoy plush luxury you'd
most likely associate with a multimillion-dollar Gulfstream
Becker SUVs have taken their inspiration from the best of
everything - Maybach-type leather seats, Rolls Royce burl
wood veneer and Mercedes-Benz upholstery. Comparing the exquisitely
detailed Becker coachwork interiors to the plush cabin of
a private jet is no accident or coincidence.
"Describing them as Gulfstreams of the road - as some
people have - is okay with me," says Becker, acknowledging
the comparison compliment. "In many instances our interiors
are equal to and often surpass what you'll find on a expensive
"Many dignitaries and celebrities who buy our SUVs already
own private planes, yachts and European luxury cars. They
are used to the best. And we will continue to supply them
with that luxury but in a subtle stylish way with no exterior
"So if our interiors do seem aviation-oriented, it's not
by accident. We are re-creating, in a SUV, the same luxurious
appointments they are used to in their privileged lifestyle.
Whatever the latest technology is for - business or entertainment
purposes - we can provide it with total luxury thrown in as
Becker and company didn't set out to become the foremost
manufacturer of custom-converted SUVs. The company's initial
idea was to create a limousine without resorting to a stretching
Eventually, Becker found that a Ford Excursion, 7 ½
inches longer that GM's Denali and other SUVs, was perfect
for what he had in mind - except for the suspension. Becker
was very discouraged to learn that the Excursion suspension
was a tooth rattler on the cobblestones and potholes of New
"Since 40 percent of our production goes to New York,
we had to make a tremendous investment and develop an independent
rear suspension for the Excursion," says Becker. "Now
the Excursion gives a smoother and quieter ride on New York
streets than a Cadillac."
Although the Excursion is ideal for his purposes in terms
of its length, Becker says that any or most SUVs could be
adapted if requested. The adapted Excursion provides a comfortable
ride for five rear passengers, with walled-off privacy from
the driver's compartment.
Since Becker Automotive got off the ground in the mid-1990s,
its popularity and business have increased by leaps and bounds.
Just recently, Becker shipped 10 all-wheel-drive Chevy Express
Vans to Tokyo. Becker conversions can be found around the
world in places such as Romania, Africa, Saudi Arabia, Syria,
Kuwait, Mexico City and Beijing. A showroom in Moscow is in
The base price for one of Becker's conversions starts at
$85,000, but prices typically range from around $120,000 and
frequently go as high as $200,000.
Becker's armored packages, excluding the cost of the car and
interior accoutrements - start at around $75,000 and go up
to about $145,000. A fully armored vehicle with a complete
interior package can cost $365,000.
A Becker conversion is all about options, and they don't come
cheap. But as Howard Becker would put it, "The best option
is the option to conduct your business using the latest secure
mobile wireless Internet technology, in privacy, safety and
comfort even though you're stuck in traffic for an hour on the
way from the airport."