President Joe Biden is all about electric vehicles. But what about the hulking presidential limo — known as the Beast — that carries him around?
Transitioning from gas-powered vehicles to electric is a central component of the president’s climate policy agenda. He’s pushing that transition through tax incentives aimed at spurring consumers to buy EVs as well as by calling for the federal government to electrify its own fleet.
Electrifying Biden’s own ride is complicated.
The Beast is a specialty Cadillac limousine built by General Motors and souped up with high-tech security features designed to keep the president safe. GM keeps the specifications of the vehicle under wraps, but it’s estimated to weigh more than 15,000 pounds and cost more than $1.5 million.
The vehicle could be reconfigured to run on a battery or as a hybrid, according to experts. But factors including security concerns, high costs and charging limitations are likely among the reasons that Biden isn’t already cruising around in an electric Beast.
“This is one of those things that seems much easier to do on the surface than in reality,” said Andrew Wishnia, a former senior climate official in the Biden administration’s Transportation Department. “Cost is an issue, security is an issue. It doesn’t just have to do with the technology because the good news is the technology is actually there.”
Rich Kassel, a transportation policy expert and a partner at the advisory firm AJW, agreed that the Beast could be electrified.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” Kassel said. “But it would be challenging.”
First, the battery needs for a roughly 15,000-pound vehicle would be “extraordinary,” Kassel said. GM’s engineers “would have to be at the top of their game to develop the stored-energy capacity that that vehicle would need in a size that fits under the hood of the car.”
As a one-off project, Kassel said, “you can figure out how to electrify almost anything. Whether or not you could do it cost-effectively and in a way that logistically works is the challenge.”
Another challenge, Kassel said: charging.
“I imagine that the Secret Service would raise questions, or has raised questions, about where and when they would be able to secure enough charging for that vehicle wherever the president happens to go,” Kassel said. “The beauty of an internal combustion Beast is that wherever the Secret Service and the president go, they can find fuel 24/7 anywhere in the country, anywhere in the world. That’s not true to recharge an electric vehicle, especially one of that size.”
One option the Secret Service could consider for a future Beast model, according to Kassel: a plug-in hybrid.
“You run electric when you want to run electric,” he said. “You get the incredible torque of an electric vehicle anytime you need fast acceleration. You get zero emissions and quiet performance anytime they want it, but you can also put gas in the tank anytime you need it. So for my two cents I think a plug-in hybrid electric approach would most likely meet the operating and logistical challenges of electrifying the Beast.”
Questions about greening Biden’s ride crop up periodically, but the administration and GM are secretive about any plans for the presidential security vehicle.
Biden and his team rolled out new efforts to promote EVs in December when it announced new guidelines aimed at nudging federal employees to opt for trains over planes, rent EVs and pick electric options when using ride-booking platforms.
That announcement prompted some to wonder: What about Biden’s iconic presidential limo?
“I’m wondering if the president is thinking about making the Beast electric,” a reporter said to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre in December.
Jean-Pierre declined to answer, directing the question to the General Services Administration and the Secret Service. “But we are committed to boosting public and private access to electric vehicles,” she said.
Her predecessor, former White House press secretary Jen Psaki, fielded a similar question about the possibility of electrifying the Beast in early 2022. The federal fleet is “very large beyond the Beast,” Psaki said. “The Beast is just one member.”
Technically, it appears that the Beast could be exempt from an executive order Biden signed in 2021 that requires the federal government to acquire only zero-emission vehicles by 2035.
A provision in that executive order allows exemptions for agency activities “when it is in the interest of national security.” The order also exempts vehicles used for “military tactical or relief operations.”
GM spokesperson Jeannine Ginivan declined to discuss specifics of the vehicle and directed questions to the White House or the Secret Service.
The General Services Administration also directed an E&E News question about the Beast to the Secret Service, which declined to comment on any specific plans but didn’t rule out a future greener vehicle.
“While the Secret Service does not comment on our protective means and methods, what we can tell you is that we continuously explore ways to enhance our protective measures by integrating the most advanced technologies into our protective mission,” Secret Service spokesperson Melissa McKenzie said in an email.