Presidential inaugurations have often served as debut points of new state limousines. That’s when automakers—really just two for the past half century—have often revealed new wheels for the country’s top executive.
But will we see see a new Cadillac presidential limousine roll down Pennsylvania Avenue on January 20th?
If you’ve been expecting an entirely new presidential limousine, you may have to wait another four to eight years, at least until January 2025. That’s because presidential limousines have largely been on eight-year cycles for the past 30 years, ever since President Bill Clinton began using a Cadillac Fleetwood limousine during his first term, replacing a Lincoln limousine used by President George H.W. Bush for a short four years during his single term in office. And the latest presidential limousine, if you recall, did not appear until about two years ago, about halfway into President Donald Trump’s term, not quite missing a contractual government deadline but also raising some questions about its development period.
This means that the current crop of presidential limousines is only about two years old and that an entirely new design isn’t due at least until January 2025 at the earliest, if Cadillac chooses to return to the inauguration cycle to reveal a new vehicle.
But that doesn’t mean that President Joe Biden won’t be using a different vehicle from the outgoing president, because there aren’t just one or two presidential limousines of a single design at any given moment, but a much larger number and a larger mix, with past and present limousines serving the president and vice president during different trips. But before we get into that, it’s best to back up to just before what is the “modern era” of presidential limousines.
The end of the Clinton years effectively marked the end of car-based limousines. The Clinton years were a somewhat different time in presidential limousines, with the Cadillac Fleetwood-based limousine essentially being the last one to have been based on a production sedan with an altered roof structure. All subsequent vehicles have been SUV-based and effectively designed from scratch on the outside with some vague allusions to existing Cadillac models.
The modern era of presidential limousines effectively began with the inauguration of President George W. Bush in 2001, during whose first term in office an entirely new vehicle type debuted based on General Motors’ GMT platform, the same that underpinned its large SUVs. Those limos were not really based on any existing passenger car or SUV, featuring a custom structure and bodystyle. They also used some clever defense-through-design characteristics, such as being tall enough to obscure the body of a president who just exited or is about to enter the vehicle, as seen from ground level, while also incorporating a level of ballistic protection that previous Fleetwood-based limousines did not offer.
The result, from a design standpoint, was not all that elegant in real life, with immensely thick pillars and a boxy, visually heavy roof, but its size was hard to judge on TV screens and thus the cars did not look particularly strange. They could be mistaken for Cadillac DTS limousines by casual observers, albeit with taller roofs. DTS-style lighting elements were used to give the Bush-era vehicles a vaguely production look, even though the scaling didn’t quite match the mass of the whole vehicle.
The two terms of President Barack Obama saw a new generation of presidential limousines make their debut, once again adopting “Cadillac Escalade sedan” proportions but became even more removed from production cars or SUVs underneath, using GM’s Kodiak truck platform. In that sense, these weren’t even SUVs masquerading as sedans, but light trucks masquerading as SUVs masquerading as sedans, and their debut was said to be an alternative to the president simply using armored Escalade SUVs. At least 10 examples were produced.
That’s right: There weren’t just one or two examples of the Obama-era presidential limousine, but there are believed to have been maybe a dozen or so. Some stayed close to D.C., some were used for domestic trips, some were used for international trips, and some were kept in reserve.
The latest generation of presidential limousines, which debuted in September 2018, once again featured a layout that had been around since the George W. Bush administration with three rows of seats, including a rear-facing second row, but lost a functional glass window between the B and C pillars. Compared to the Obama-era limousines, the 2018 model featured a much taller hood line and a visually flatter roof, as well as proportionally shorter side windows that no doubt saved hundreds of pounds of weight, since ballistic glass is much heavier than the non-transparent armor incorporated into the doors. Therefore, less glass and a taller window sill line should have given the 2018 model substantial weight savings.
But the layout of the presidential limousine itself had been more or less static since the George W. Bush administration, with the Secret Service having arrived at what is an optimal three-row design with a rear-facing second row, that we’re unlikely to see change for many years.
Since the current design of presidential limousines is not even two and a half years old, the biggest question may be whether we’ll see something different during the 2025 inauguration. By then, GM will have multiple EVs on the market with its Ultium drivetrain and battery, so it’s possible that the next presidential limousine, even if it doesn’t change all that much on the outside, could be electric given the relatively modest range demands of presidential vehicles and a size that could well accommodate an exceptionally large battery.
We’re not saying that such a move has been confirmed, but given the modest range and speed demands of presidential limousines it’s a possible candidate for an electric drivetrain. Whether government requirements will prevent a non-liquid-fuel drivetrain is quite another matter.
The technology will certainly be there in 2023 when the next presidential limousine could begin its engineering phase, even if the body itself may not undergo all that many changes when it comes to layout. And perhaps that’ll be the next evolutionary step—an electric presidential limousine that will showcase Cadillac’s turn to EVs.
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