Pope reps talk to Mercedes about more fuel-efficient Popemobile

Representatives for Pope Benedict XVI continue to talk to Mercedes-Benz about making a custom-made vehicle that could use a hybrid or battery-electric powertrain to make what's commonly known as the Popemobile more fuel efficient, The Detroit Bureau reports.

The German automaker is faced with the dual challenges of making an electric-drive vehicle that is both non-aerodynamic – the current version has an upright cabin that fits two people – and heavier – because the cabin's bulletproof – than normal. One reason for the distinctive bubble is that Pope John Paul II was wounded in a 1981 assassination attempt.

Last year, reports surfaced that Mercedes-Benz was working on a hybrid-electric Popemobile that would be a customized version of the automaker's M-Class and would be able to travel in all-electric mode at low speeds for as far as 16 miles before its gas-powered engine was engaged.

Mercedes-Benz sells a hybrid version of its M-Class that's powered in part by a six-cylinder engine and gets an EPA-rating of 22 miles per gallon combined. Through the first 11 months of last year, Mercedes-Benz sold fewer than 100 of those models in the U.S.

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