Pope Benedict XVI goes electric with a custom Renault van

Pope Benedict XVI is the first head of the Catholic Church to install solar panels in Vatican City, and urge nations to find some path toward dealing with greenhouse gases. Which would explain the smiles all around on Wednesday when Renault chief Carlos Ghosn presented him with two custom-built electric vans for use at the papal estate. Who says commerce and creed can't coexist?

The vans are conversions of the Renault Kangoo Maxi Z.E., transformed with a 60-hp electric motor and a lithium-ion battery pack that gives them a range of just 105 miles. But the Pope-Volt isn't a replacement for His Holiness' traditional Mercedes-based Popemobiles; the Renault vans will be used only at the Pope's summer home, Castel Gandolf. Renault did give another van to the Corps of Gendarmerie in Vatican City for tooling around.

Lest you think Renault and chairman Carlos Ghosn were just following the Bible's urge "to be generous and ready to share," it's worth noting that the publicity gained from giving a pontiff his first electric car far outpaces the cost of building two one-offs. That attention also helps buck up Renault and Nissan's ambitious EV plans, which have stumbled in the United States as the Nissan Leaf has fallen far short of its sales targets; with only 685 sold in August. EVs will be the future but today they still require some acts of faith.