Building a vehicle for the Pope presents automakers who have attempted it a unique set of challenges. After all, few vehicles are offered with hydraulically-assisted thrones in place of rear bench seats. But Mercedes-Benz is the automaker who knows Popes best, and so when the time came to replace the old Popemobile, the job once again fell to Stuttgart. The new Popemobile is a Mercedes M-Class, and it actually replaces a 2002 M-Class-based Popemobile which had previously been the Benedict XVI’s vehicle of choice.
Several changes were made to the design from the previous generation, with more glass area and better interior illumination being priorities. Mercedes also added more standing room in the back, while at the same time lowering the roof height to make it easier to load the vehicle into a plane. Papal insignia adorn the exterior and one is also embroidered into the cloth of the (there’s no other way to say it) throne. The vehicle was delivered by none other than Mercedes-Benz CEO Dr. Dieter Zetsche, in Rome.
The practice of bringing the Pope’s vehicle with him when he travels is fairly recent. It used to be that a company in whatever country the Pope was visiting would build a specialized vehicle ahead of the Pope’s visit, and the Swiss Guards would fly out ahead of time and inspect the vehicle. The current system is obviously more efficient, and it allows the manufacturer, usually Mercedes-Benz, to better tailor the vehicle to their focus group of one. It might even be possible that at some point Mercedes will find a way to make the vehicle look even slightly dignified, but that’s probably still a long way off.