Pope Francis Rides A Volkswagen On His First Day

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Pope Francis on Thursday Pope Francis Leaves Santa Maria Maggiore Church, Rome

Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been Pope Francis for less than one day, and already his every choice as head of 1.3 billion Catholics is being scrutinized. And not surprisingly in car-crazy Italy, the local press has focused on one thing: What does the new pontiff ride? 

Answer: the same car the previous pope did, a Volkswagen Phaeton sedan. But he's made sure to bring an understated style, in keeping with the frugal life he has led, even to his transportation habits. (He famously took public transit as archbishop of Buenos Aires, and on Wednesday night after the conclave that elected him, he returned to his residence on the shuttle bus used by the other cardinals.)

On Thursday, on his first outing as Pontiff, to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, he was driven in one of the Vatican's armored VWs, a sleek but decidedly not flashy black, four-door with tinted windows. It's the same model Benedict XVI used, as well as the preferred ride of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The tag on the pope's vehicle reads CV 03758, a Vatican registration. Popes usually go around in vehicles with the registration SCV 1, the Italian (and Latin) initials of the official name of the Vatican state, indicating the importance of the passenger. But Francis chose the relative anonymity of a generic license plate.

And by a quick reading of the model name on the trunk lid of the car, Francis didn't use the top-notch, 12-cylinder, 450-horsepower Phaeton that VW CEO Bernd Pischetsrieder gave his fellow German Benedict XVI as a gift in 2006. He rode in the far more sedate 3.0 TDI V6 model, a diesel-powered car noted as one of the luxury European sedans with the best fuel economy. According to a report in the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore,  he also wanted his motorcade reduced to only one other car, a Ford carrying a security detail of Italian police (when in Italy, security for the pope is provided by the Italian authorities, while in Vatican territory that's the responsibility of the Swiss Guards.) 

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