What to give a globe-trotting pontiff who frequently speaks out on environmental matters? California EV startup Fisker Inc. apparently has the answer: an all-electric popemobile.
Company founder Henrik Fisker and Geeta Gupta-Fisker met with Pope Francis on Thursday to reveal the design of an all-electric vehicle based on the company’s Ocean SUV which is set to go into production late this year.
“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 interior of the Fisker Ocean papal transport will contain a variety of sustainable materials, including carpets made from recycled plastic bottles from the ocean.”
After that, he wrangled a meeting with the pontiff through a friend to offer a specially designed Ocean for the pope. It clearly went well, since he got the deal, but Fisker tells TheDetroitBureau it was even better than that.
“The pope even signed the sketch I did of the Ocean in an Italian cafe nearby, prior to the private meeting,” he said in an email.
While he started out as a designer on iconic vehicles like the Aston Martin DB9, Henrik Fisker was a pioneer in vehicle electrification. His first company, Fisker Automotive, began marketing a plug-in hybrid sports sedan a decade ago. But the company went bankrupt less than two years later, its assets taken over by a Chinese company that has relaunched the automaker under the name Karma.
The Danish-born entrepreneur’s new venture, based in Southern California’s Orange County, plans to produce a wide array of battery-electric vehicles. The Ocean SUV will be its first. Several versions of the retail model will be offered to the public, including one capable of running 300 miles between charges.
A base variant 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. It will go for 32,000 euros, or $39,152, in Germany.
Production is set to begin in November of this year at a plant run by Magna-Steyr in Graz, Austria. The partners are exploring the possibility of adding a factory somewhere in North America for future models.
Optioning up a popemobile
While Fisker Inc. will offer a wide range of options to the public, the list won’t include the transparent cupola that will be built into the new popemobile. This will allow the pontiff to stand up and wave to the crowds as he is being driven around during his travels. The special details required for a popemobile will push back delivery of the customized Fisker until later in 2022.
“It will be the most sustainable vehicle in the world. It will have a bulletproof glass canopy raising electrically out of the roof,” Fisker told TheDetroitBureau in an email.
That’s become an essential feature of vehicles designed specifically for the leader of the Catholic church since Pope John Paul II was seriously wounded during a 1981 assassination attempt in St. Peter’s Square. He didn’t provide too many details about the heavily modified Ocean SUV but it will offer other useful features for a globetrotting pontiff, including the ability to get an 80% recharge in as little as 30 minutes.
“It will retain the good looks of the Fisker Ocean and will be very similar to the base $37,499 Ocean available around the world for normal people to buy.”
Taking over for the long-standing provider
Traditionally, the Vatican has worked with Mercedes-Benz ever since the German automaker provided a vehicle to Pope Pius XI in 1930. Mercedes added features like a protective bubble, stairs and a handrail in the 1980s.
Other automakers have tried to break Mercedes’ grip. In 2017, Francis was given a specially modified Lamborghini, but the Holy See — the special papal website — quickly auctioned it off for charity. For his part, the current pope hasn’t even made much use of his current Mercedes, preferring instead to go with basic transportation from brands like Fiat, Ford and Jeep.
Francis has been an outspoken advocate for environmental causes, in 2019 meeting with Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old who tried to mobilize a global push to address global warning.
With that in mind, Toyota delivered a specially customized version of its Mirai fuel-cell vehicle. It’s currently one of one three hydrogen-powered vehicle currently 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.
With its extended range and ability to plug in most places, the Fisker popemobile could see a but more use once it is delivered to the Vatican next year.