By Paul A. Eisenstein
Pope Francis, who has frequently spoken out on environmental issues, will trade in his popemobile for a new model running entirely on battery power.
The pontiff met Thursday with Henrik Fisker and Geeta Gupta-Fisker, founders of the California-based electric car startup Fisker, who provided him with renderings of the vehicle they plan to deliver during the fourth quarter of next year. It will be based on the Fisker Ocean SUV the company plans to put in production in 2022.
“I got inspired reading that Pope Francis is very considerate about the environment and the impact of climate change for future generations,” Henrik Fisker said in a statement.
The connection to the pope, Fisker told NBC News by email, was made through “a mutual friend [who] arranged the meeting.”
This is the second zero-emission vehicle that the Argentine-born pope will receive. Last year, Japanese automaker Toyota delivered a specially customized version of its Mirai fuel-cell vehicle. It’s currently one of three hydrogen-powered vehicles on the market. The Toyota popemobile has not seen extensive use, however, largely due to the challenges of finding a readily accessible source of the lightweight gas during the pontiff’s travels.
Traditionally, popes have traveled in vehicles provided to the Holy See by Mercedes-Benz, with the first presented to Pope Pius XI in 1930. Recent models have included transparent compartments where the pope can stand up while also keeping him safe. That became essential following an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in May 1981 in St. Peter’s Square.
For his part, the current pope has maintained a low profile when it comes to the vehicles he travels in, preferring to use Fords, Jeeps and Fiats.
Considering the environmentally friendly nature of the Fisker product, and the fact that Francis met with the company founders, there’s a good chance it will find more use than Toyota’s popemobile once it is delivered.
The design is based on the Ocean, the first product Fisker plans to bring to market. Currently, it is set to go into production at a factory in Austria on Nov. 17.
Several configurations will be offered to the public, including one capable of running 300 miles between charges. A base model with more limited range is expected to come in at $37,499 in the United States before applying the current $7,500 in federal tax credits.
Fisker founder and CEO Henrik Fisker has promised to offer an array of options for the retail model. The version earmarked for Pope Francis, however, will have at least one feature not available to the public: a unique, hand-built cupola in which he will be able to stand and wave to the public during his travels.
The bulletproof glass canopy, Fisker said, will be hidden within the SUV’s roof until needed by the pope. It will then rise up with the touch of a button. He declined to offer other details, such as whether the electric popemobile will use the high-performance powertrain the company is developing for the Ocean SUV. That system will be capable of launching from 0 to 60 in around 3 seconds. But it will have a few other “special details and features,” Fisker said.