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 start-up 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 that 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 e-mail, was made through “a mutual friend (who) arranged the meeting.”
This actually is the second zero-emission vehicle that the Argentine-born pope will receive. Last November, Japanese automaker Toyota delivered a specially customized version of its Mirai fuel-cell vehicle. It’s currently one of three hydrogen-powered vehicles 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.
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.
What may prove more important while on the road will be the Ocean’s quick-charge capability. The retail version will be able to get an 80 percent battery top-off in less than 30 minutes, according to the automaker.
For the green-minded pope himself, Fisker told NBC News the battery drive system is only part of the appeal of the modified SUV. While some competitors likely will quibble with his claim the Ocean is “the most sustainable vehicle in the world,” it does forego traditional luxury materials like leather in favor of alternative derived from recycled soft drink bottles and even plastics reclaimed from the ocean.
One of the highlights of the project was meeting with Francis, Fisker said, noting that “the Pope even signed the sketch I did of the Ocean in a Italian café nearby, prior to the private meeting.”
The Fisker founders probably could use a little intervention from up high. They will be launching their new company at a time when the electric car market is expected to see significant growth — but also a flood of new products from traditional manufacturers like Ford, General Motors and Volkswagen, as well as upstart brands like Tesla, Rivian, Lordstown Motors and others.
Henrik Fisker was a pioneer in the field, bringing a plug-in hybrid to market a decade ago. But Fisker Automotive quickly went bankrupt, its assets sold to the Chinese.
The Danish-born entrepreneur started out as a designer, earning a solid reputation for his work on less environmentally friendly products like the Aston Martin DB9 and the BMW Z8.