The first car ever used by a sitting American president in an official capacity was electric. All the way back in 1902, President Roosevelt took a ride in a handsome Bailey Electric Victoria Phaeton as he paraded through Hartford, Connecticut. Through the decades, necessitated by world wars and assassinations, the president’s state car has evolved from an open carriage to a massive rolling fortress intended to keep the Commander In Chief protected from any danger.
Every passing threat to the presidential body, thwarted or realized, has shaped the car. Since Kennedy’s assassination, presidential cars have carried hundreds — if not thousands — of pounds of bulletproof protection. Vacillating between Lincoln and Cadillac state cars for decades, the President has now been riding in the lap of luxury from the shield and wreath brand since President Clinton’s Fleetwood was delivered in 1993.
For many years the Secret Service would purchase presidential state cars as standard automobiles and modify them to fit the needs of the highest position. As the demands of these limousines increased year after year, as the cars themselves gained pounds in the thousands, standard equipment was no longer safe or effective. The Secret Service’s modifications would tax the drivetrains and equipment of their modified Fleetwood sedans beyond the breaking point. As one veteran of the service told Autoweek Magazine, “they were a terror to drive, and even harder to stop.”
So, ahead of the 2001 inauguration of George W. Bush, the Secret Service got together with General Motors to develop a new kind of from-the-ground-up presidential vehicle. Known as The Beast, it is quite obviously not based on any road-going Cadillac on sale today. While the specifications of The Beast are kept strictly confidential as a matter of national security, it is thought to be based largely on the chassis of a third-generation GMC Topkick medium-duty industrial truck, and powered by the 8.1-liter GM big block engine producing in the neighborhood of 550 horsepower.
For the last three presidents, a fleet of Beasts has served dutifully in roles all around the world. Each one a rolling display of American exceptionalism. They are rumored to weigh in the ballpark of 15,000 pounds, cost 1.5 million dollars each, and gets about four miles to each gallon of gasoline. The Beast is fitted with Kevlar run-flat tires, thousands of pounds of armor, a separate oxygen supply, bags of the president’s blood type, satellite uplink, five-inch thick windows, and a handful of specially-trained tactical driving agents.
On Monday, newly inaugurated President Biden announced his plan to replace the entire fleet of nearly 650,000 federal government-owned vehicles with American-built electric machines. Based on that massive number, this would include the fleet of over 180,000 postal carrier Grumman LLVs, which have been in service since 1987, as well as an unspecified number of noncombat military vehicles. This is a massive undertaking, for obvious reasons, taking several years to accomplish. And because it’s so all-encompassing, it might be a little hypocritical if Biden were to continue to ride around in a big-block-powered Beast getting less than four miles from a gallon of dirty fossil fuel.
Biden has made it quite clear, both in his general campaign and in the first few days of his presidency, that the climate and American jobs are his major priorities. What better way to commit to furthering both initiatives than by commissioning a new electric presidential limo? In much the way Kennedy challenged NASA to put a man on the moon, Biden can challenge every red blooded American to cast aside the country’s history of petromasculinity to focus on making electrified propulsion a national priority. If President Biden has his sights on securing a legacy as the green jobs president, then the buck absolutely must stop with him.
When EV Pulse reached out to Cadillac about a potential electric Beast, the response we got was noncommittal, and probably for good reason. “It [the presidential state car] is a product we don’t comment on and can’t speculate on its future,” commented General Motors Brand Communications Manager, Stuart Fowle.
General Motors, and its Cadillac brand in particular, are deeply focused on an all-electric future. And that isn’t a distant future, it’s one that gets closer with each passing day. For its part, Cadillac has shown off a pair of near-production EVs in its Celestiq flagship sedan and Lyriq SUV. This electrified partnership between Cadillac and the executive branch of the U.S. government would be a win-win for all involved, not only pushing Biden’s policies forward in an extremely visible way, but shining a spotlight on Cadillac’s innovative push forward into the future.
Building state cars for POTUS has always been about brand cachet for the Cadillac brand. Being associated with arguably the most powerful person in the world of global politics, being associated with the office of the president, and being associated with the engineering, safety, and comfort necessary for such a task, are exactly what Cadillac is looking for out of this partnership. And, frankly, as the brand reinvents itself as the future of luxury, it needs the PR of such a move to use as a launchpad toward bigger and better.
The Beast is a symbol. Since George W. Bush, through the Barack Obama era, and across the Donald J. Trump years, it has projected international strength, American largesse, and perhaps a bit of ego. As we inch closer to global climate meltdown, in the Biden era it can only symbolize excess, waste, and tailpipe emissions. An all-electric Cadillac state car, while still needing to be massive, would at least signify a dedication to the cause of our lifetimes. It’s a literal moonshot toward an all-electric American future.
POTUS’ state car must be more than a symbol, however. It has to not only function as a state car, but it must improve on the outgoing model’s safety to even be considered by the Secret Service. Consider for a moment that instead of reductive drivetrain components with multiple failure points, an electric limo could benefit from a motor at each axle for redundancy. In the rare case one motor fails, the car can still drive in a potential crisis, calling on the other for forward motion. There is also the whole aspect of carrying combustible fluids in a tank onboard the car, which can be remedied by mounting GM’s signature Ultium battery packs inside their own armored case in the floor. And by virtue of carrying its weight in the floor, the presidential car will actually benefit from more agile maneuverability than the current industrial-truck-based machine.
President Biden, Cadillac, I implore both of you to consider tearing down The Beast and instituting a kinder, quieter, and more environmentally conscious electric. You can even code-name it something that ends with a “q” if you really want.
Updated (8:46am EST, 1/26/2021): Updated Stuart Fowle’s title.