Mercedes-Benz is currently designing a hybrid Popemobile for Pope Benedict XVI, according to a Germany newspaper.
The move to a greener vehicle is consistent with Benedict’s view on being a good steward of the earth. In 2008, Newsweek noted, “The new pontiff has made being green a central part of his teachings and policy-making. Just months after being elected pope, Benedict stated in his first homily as pontiff that ‘the earth's treasures have been made to serve the powers of exploitation and destruction’ and called on Catholics to be better stewards of God's creation.”
In recent years, the Vatican has installed solar panels on its roof in addition to a solar cooling unit in its main cafeteria.
The new Popemobile will be based on the four-wheel drive M Class Mercedes that has a hybrid electric-gas motor and will come with a rechargeable lithium-ion battery that will allow the vehicle to travel for 16 miles without producing any polluting emissions when driven at slower speeds. The gas-powered engine kicks in at higher speeds.
As much as Benedict wanted an all-electric mobile, concerns for his safety in an emergency situation didn’t allow for it because it may not have enough power to accelerate quickly to safety. The vehicle will weigh five tons because it contains extra armor, bullet-proof glass and emergency equipment.
In an article on its website, Discovery Communications – which includes the Discovery Channel, the Learning Channel and Animal Planet – disagreed with the Vatican’s assessment that an all-electric Popemobile was not possible.
“While it would obviously require a much larger battery pack than those normally found in production electric cars,” the article says, “we think it would be entirely possible to engineer an all-electric armored car with four-wheel electric drive, complete with enough torque to accelerate His Holiness away from an incident quickly and safely.”
In its opinion, the real reason for the hybrid rather than the pure electric vehicle is that Mercedes is reluctant to spend money developing a drive train which won’t be used in any other vehicles.
Emails to Mercedes-Benz asking for a response were not returned.
The new Popemobile is not expected to be ready before the end of the year.