Next Popemobile To Be A Fortified Plug-in HybridBy Scott Doggett June 22, 2011
Despite Pope Benedict XVI's wishes that the next-generation popemobile be powered solely by solar energy, Vatican security personnel have instead ordered a heavily fortified plug-in hybrid sport utility vehicle for His Holiness based on the Mercedes-Benz M-Class. A battery-electric vehicle, propelled to a large extent by power provided by the Vatican's enormous solar arrays, was deemed too risky due to purported acceleration issues. The hybrid, which will employ technology found in the Mercedes Vision S500 plug-in hybrid concept displayed at the 2009 Frankfurt Motor Show, will replace a gas-guzzling custom-made M-Class that B16 has been using since 2007.
While the Vatican and Mercedes-Benz were unwilling to discuss particulars for security reasons, a look at the S500 plug-in hybrid concept and the current popemobile should shed some light on the upcoming one. The S500 featured a 3.5-liter V-6 gas engine married to a 60-horsepower electric motor and a 10-kilowatthour lithium-ion battery. The vehicle was said to be capable of traveling 16 miles on electricity only. Charging time for the plug-in hybrid is said to be less than one hour with a rapid-charging station, or about four and a half hours with a conventional household outlet. These charge times are faster than the time required to charge a Chevy Volt, but then that plug-in hybrid carries a 16-kilowatthour battery.
Regardless, the next-gen popemobile likely will feature a larger engine, motor and battery than the Mercedes concept, based on characteristics of the current papal ride. It features five tons of armor, including a half-inch steel plate under the vehicle to protect against a bomb blast. A 6-foot-tall enclosure that showcases the pontiff and is situated at the back of the SUV is fitted with 3-inch-thick bulletproof glass and enough Kevlar to outfit a Navy Seals team. Word is that the new popemobile will be able to travel at speeds up to 70 miles an hour even if its tires have been shredded. An air-filtration system has been designed to protect occupants from chemical and biological weapons.
Popemobile, or papamobile in Italian, is an informal name for the specially designed motor vehicle used by the pope during outdoor public appearances without having to employ the antiquated and often impractical sedia gestatory, a portable throne on which popes were carried until 1978. The original popemobile was initially designed to allow the pope to be more visible when greeting large crowds, but the focus shifted from visibility to security following a July 1981 sniper attack on Pope John Paul II as he blessed the crowds in St. Peter's Square while being driven in the open-topped popemobile. The pontiff was struck by four bullets fired by Mehmet Ali Agca, a 23-year-old Turkish national. John Paul II went on to make a full recovery and publicly forgave Agca, who was pardoned in 2000 and sent back to Turkey.