The very first president to ride in a car was William McKinley in 1899, but it was Teddy Roosevelt who, in 1902, became the first to lead a motorcade. The place was Hartford, Connecticut, and the car was a purple-upholstered Columbia Electric Victoria. Neither President spent much time in an automobile, however.
President William Howard Taft had a Baker Electric, and a White Steam car, too. According to automotive historian Michael L. Bromley, early Presidents looked at the automobile with some suspicion as a symbol of conspicuous wealth. By 1909, with mass production of the Model T Ford underway, a case could be made that cars were helpful to the masses. And so Taft was able to lead the way--he owned no less than four cars.
In 1977, President Carter made a splash by hosting a hydrogen-powered Cadillac Seville in his inaugural parade. The Caddy, designed by Roger Billings, could also run on gasoline.
As President-elect, Barack Obama has made a substantial commitment to green cars—he wants to put a million plug-in hybrid cars on American roads by 2015. But will he live out his principles? His personal car, a not particularly fuel-efficient Chrysler 300C, was mysteriously put up for sale on eBay in December, with a starting bid of $100,000. The car was pulled before it attracted any bids, so maybe it’s still in the Presidential motor pool.
But Obama definitely has a new car, made by General Motors. A new Presidential Cadillac limousine goes into service January 20, with the two-mile inaugural parade its first public appearance. Since President Kennedy was shot in Dallas in 1963, Presidential Cadillacs have been not only enclosed, but virtually armor-plated. That might be prudent, but it certainly makes the new and rather hideous limo extremely heavy. Even with a diesel engine, don’t expect it to have good fuel economy.
Bromley says he's unsure why Obama really needs a new limousine, since George W. Bush was furnished with a brand-new 2006 Cadillac DTS-based version. "Cadillac probably wants it to reflect the look of its latest models," he said.
The President mover is assembled from a unique assortment of GM car and SUV parts. Details are kept secret, but there’s probably a GM 2500 truck chassis under the Caddy body. The car incorporates five-inch-thick armor, run-flat tires and an interior sealed against chemical attack. With the advanced communications equipment on board, it’s something of a mobile White House.
If he can get away with it, Obama may spend some leisure time in a Smart Car or a Toyota Prius. But when the new limo and his regular flights on Air Force One are taken into account, the President-elect’s carbon profile is likely to go way up in 2009.
The opinions expressed by MNN Bloggers and those providing comments are theirs alone, and do not reflect the opinions of MNN.com. While we have reviewed their content to make sure it complies with our Terms and Conditions, MNN is not responsible for the accuracy of any of their information.