Shortly before that time of the year traditionally reserved for all manner of tomfoolery, the UK's Environmental Transport Association (ETA) released details of a pedal-powered Popemobile concept that many immediately assumed to be a joke. Gizmag caught up with its designer, Yannick Read of Hornster and Bond Bike fame, to find out if the environmentally-friendly pontiff-carrier proposal is genuine or fake.
Read says that the idea for creating a pedal-powered Popemobile began with the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI. When Mercedes modified an ML430 SUV into a hybrid gas/electric Popemobile for the so-called Green Pope in 2011, he was struck by the notion that His Holiness could take the next logical step and travel "in as green a way as possible."
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His concept for an electric assist, pedal-powered, 3-wheeled Popemobile would see armor-plated, blast-proof body panels made from titanium and ceramic composite, with 8-mm bullet-proof Plexiglass windows. The cabin would feature low-power spotlights in the floor and roof, and a built-in oxygen supply.
Read claims that the vehicle would not require a brace of clergy to provide the kind of leg power needed to chauffeur the current leader of the Catholic Church past the crowds of adoring followers, but will only have one "driver" out in front, able to call on six levels of assistance from an included 1.5 kW electric motor.
The designer has already bashed out the details with an electric bike manufacturer and designed a bespoke emergency power train that will deliver a top speed of 38 mph (61 km/h). PV panels on the roof will help to top up an onboard battery bank.
So is it a joke? The concept was unveiled to coincide with the Easter break, but the unfortunate timing caused many to assume that this was an April Fool prank. Read, however, insists that the design represents "a serious offer to the Vatican next time they look to buy a gas-guzzling, petrol-powered Popemobile."
"The pedal-powered Popemobile is unusual by virtue of the fact it's still on the drawing board – for the time being at least," he added. "It's too niche a product and too expensive an endeavor to build the vehicle without a firm order from the Vatican, which is why we have released only a render of the design. However, we've completed enough research and development to be in a position to offer a fully-functioning pedal-powered Popemobile for sale. We have already sent details of the vehicle to the Vatican's vehicle procurement team, but have yet to receive a reply."
The price of the build has been pitched at £175,000 (US$228,000).