WASHINGTON, D.C. – President-elect Barack Obama is getting a new ride to go with his new address on Jan. 20.
General Motors Corp. recently delivered to the U.S. Secret Service a brand new presidential limousine, replacing the 2006 model Cadillac DTS presidential limousine that President George W. Bush has used.
The new limousine, dubbed the 2009 Cadillac Presidential Limousine, makes its debut on Inauguration Day. It's the first presidential limousine not to carry a specific model name, said GM spokesman David Caldwell.
GM declined to say how many it was building for the U.S. government, but it's believed to be fewer than 25.
Ed Donovan, a Secret Service spokesman, confirmed that the new Cadillac limousine would make its debut on Jan. 20 during the inauguration, but declined to elaborate on the new vehicle's improvements or specifications.
The new limousine has larger windows and better visibility for the president, Caldwell said. But it is roughly the same size and "footprint" of the previous model, he said.
Obama will use the limousine during the parade down Pennsylvania Avenue after his swearing in on the west side of the Capitol.
Spy shots of a test version of the new presidential limousine made the rounds on blogs this summer, with some suggesting it was built on GM's medium-duty truck platform and had a diesel engine. But those photos didn't have GM production panels.
Another company provides heavy armor that is reportedly at least 5 inches thick for the vehicle. The limousine also has run-flat tires, bulletproof glass and a completely sealed interior to ward off a chemical attack, among many other high-tech security features. It also has electronic communications equipment.
Secret Service agents are training with the new limousine at a facility near Washington.
Caldwell said it would be a mistake to classify the new vehicle as a truck or a sedan.
"The president is not riding in a medium-duty truck, nor he is riding in a sedan," he said, adding that it is a "unique" vehicle.
Caldwell said he couldn't give specifications -- even the engine size or type -- in either the current limousine or the new one. Other facts also are secret like the vehicle's curb weight, though Cadillac has disclosed in the past that the limo has a 10-disc CD player and hand-stitched leather interiors.
Both Donovan and Caldwell said they would release more information and pictures about the new limo next week.
Caldwell noted that the Secret Service would continue to use the 2006 model vehicles as well. Presidential limousines are often used for a decade or longer. They are also used by the vice president, and the Secret Service often provides transportation for visiting world leaders.
GM introduced its latest version of the presidential limousine in 2005 during Bush's second inauguration, which replaced the 2001 Cadillac DeVille presidential limousine. GM builds the vehicles to "an exacting list" of government specifications.
"This is an assignment we really treasure," Caldwell said. "We're honored again to be associated with the U.S. presidency."
The president also on occasion travels in a Chevrolet Suburban. Bush often travels in a Chevy during weekend biking trips in Washington. He owns a Ford F-250 pickup he keeps on his Texas ranch.
During the presidential campaign, Obama bought a Ford Escape Hybrid, getting rid of his less efficient Chrysler 300C. He also blasted the first car he learned to drive on: a Ford Granada, saying it may be "the worst car Detroit ever built."
GM has built the most presidential limousines since 1983, wresting the job away from Ford Motor Co., which built a series of Lincolns -- mostly Continentals -- for use by presidents starting in 1939, when it built a Lincoln V-12 for President Franklin Roosevelt.
Ford built a 1989 Lincoln Town Car limo for President George H.W. Bush that was modified from an F-250 pickup. It's on display at his presidential library.
GM has a 90-year history with presidents.
President Woodrow Wilson rode in a Cadillac during a World War I victory parade in 1919. President Calvin Coolidge used a 1928 Cadillac town car throughout his administration.
But the first government-owned vehicle was a Stanley Steamer purchased during President Theodore Roosevelt's administration. The first president to ride in a car in his inauguration was Warren Harding, who rode in a Packard Twin-Six.
In 1938, two Cadillac convertibles, dubbed the "Queen Mary" and "Queen Elizabeth," were purchased by the U.S. government. Named for ocean liners, the 21 1/2 feet, 7,660-pound vehicles were equipped with a full ammunition arsenal, two-way radios and heavy-duty generators.
They remained in use until the 1950s. President Dwight Eisenhower got one of the first production 1953 Cadillac Eldorados, which he rode in his first inaugural parade.
The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn has the largest collection of presidential limousines, including the vehicle that President John F. Kennedy rode in 1963 when he was shot.
Source: Detroit News