Popemobile may get ecological upgrade — on paper

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI’s popemobile may be getting an ecological upgrade.

Young car designers participating in an annual auto style competition are being asked to design a low-emission popemobile that meets the Vatican’s high security standards.

The Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano announced details of the competition Friday, saying the green popemobile will be one of the proposed projects of the 2012 edition of Autostyle International Design Competition.

Italian auto parts maker Berman organizes the competition each year, selecting 12 students from universities and auto design schools from around the world to submit designs for particular projects.

Winners are selected each October at the Autostyle show held in a monastery in the tiny town of San Benedetto Po, near Mantua, where top automakers like Nissan, Ferrari, Bentley and Toyota show off their wares.

The best eco-popemobile designs will be compiled in a book published by the Vatican publishing house, L’Osservatore said.

Benedict, 84, is known as something of a “green” pope because of his environmental concerns; Under his watch, the Vatican installed photovoltaic cells on its main auditorium to convert sunlight into electricity as well as a solar cooling unit for its main cafeteria. It has joined a reforestation project aimed at offsetting its CO2 emissions.

For the pontiff, it’s a moral issue: Church teaching holds that man must respect creation because it’s destined for the benefit of humanity’s future.

The question of a more environmentally conscious popemobile has been on the Vatican’s radar screen for some time; earlier this year the Vatican confirmed Germany’s Mercedes-Benz was making a study of a hybrid, energy-saving popemobile for when Benedict travels outside the Vatican.

Benedict usually rides in a modified white Mercedes outfitted with bulletproof windows; it has room for two passengers in addition to the pope, who sits on an elevated chair to wave to crowds.

Last year, Cardinal Giovanni Lajolo, who at the time ran the Vatican City state, said Benedict would be open to using a hybrid popemobile as a sign of his efforts to promote sustainable energy and take care of the planet.

But the question remains whether one can be made that would meet the Vatican’s security needs, particularly the ability to accelerate quickly, and of course who would donate it.

Roberto Artioli, Berman’s chief executive, said for some years car designers who attend the Autostyle Design Competition show had been toying with the idea of proposing a green popemobile as one of the projects for young designers to tackle.

In a telephone interview Friday, Artioli said the idea was discussed with Vatican officials, including the head of the Vatican publishing house, who signed off on the idea.

He said the competition is particularly well-suited to the Vatican since it will enable it to decide on a possible ecological upgrade for the popemobile on the basis of a public competition, judged by the chief designers of the world’s major automakers.

“The idea is to be able to make a car that is eco-compatible,” he said.

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