The U.S. Secret Service is shopping for a new car – something durable and roomy, and unlike anything else on the road.
The commander in chief's security detail this month began soliciting bids – officially, by publishing a Federal Business Opportunity – for a new presidential limousine to replace the five-year-old Cadillac now in service. The company that wins the contract will be responsible for developing the next-generation vehicle, including integrating the armour and fabricating the prototype, with an option to actually produce the car (or cars).
While civilian buyers can make their choice from hundreds of new models, the Secret Service is restricted to working with just a handful of auto makers. The contract can be awarded only to a domestic auto maker whose headquarters are in the United States.
That leaves Chrysler, Ford, General Motors and Tesla as potential applicants. As the president's official and highly visible transportation during parades, motorcade processions and foreign visits, the presidential limousine puts one auto maker on a large world stage.
Cadillac, a General Motors brand, has placed its wreath-and-crest badge on the president's ride for the past 21 years.
Cadillac's recent history suggests that it may have the best chance of landing the contract, but Ford Motor's Lincoln brand held a similarly lengthy tenure as the preferred provider of presidential limousines from the 1940s through the 1970s.
In January, Chrysler joined with Fiat of Italy under a holding company headquartered in the Netherlands, yet it appears that the American subsidiary is still considered eligible to build the limo. While the Secret Service wouldn't confirm if the company was qualified to apply, a Chrysler representative said that the company was notified about the opportunity by the Secret Service, adding that executives had not decided whether the company would bid.
A Tesla spokeswoman declined to comment when asked if the auto maker was interested in bidding on the job. Even if Tesla were awarded the contract, it seems unlikely that the company's battery-electric powertrain technology would be deemed suitable for presidential duty. Not only would the large, heavy battery packs prove difficult to package and protect, an electric limo would also add the logistical challenge of maintaining charge levels while travelling abroad.
Until 1993, the president's limousines were derived from production models. Today's Cadillac One is built specifically for its task. Known as the Beast and said to weigh from five to 10 tons, its custom design draws parts from production models, including headlights from the Escalade SUV and taillights from the STS sedan. The Beast rides on a truck chassis, yet it wears a body that resembles the Cadillac DTS, a large sedan discontinued in 2011.
The modifications for security are extensive. First reporting for duty at Obama's inauguration on Jan. 20, 2009, the limo uses bullet- and blast-proof glass that is as much as five inches thick and armour that is up to eight inches thick. The cabin is sealed against chemical and biological attacks, and the trunk contains a chilled store of the president's blood type.
The Secret Service says the contract will be awarded on Aug. 29, "based on best value to the government." The winning company will have the option to perform the final two phases of the limousine program: validation testing and production of the final vehicles, which are to be on the road in time for the next inauguration on Jan. 20, 2017.
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