As the Sochi Olympics and the crisis in the Ukraine demonstrate, Vladimir Putin knows few limits in his drive to strengthen Russia's standing in the world. That push extends to even the smallest details; just last week, he banned cursing in all Russian movies, books and concerts. And for the past couple of years, Putin has personally overseen another effort at building a symbol of Russian strength: a new series of Russian-engineered limousines for himself and other potentates that would project the same kind of power that President Barack Obama's Cadillac does.
Known as "Project Cortege," the plan involves several Russian automakers and, according to reports in Russia last week, engineering input from Porsche. Putin's managers have laid out plans for a whole series of vehicles — limousines, vans and SUVs — built in Russia from a Russian-engineered chassis. While the first prototypes won't be on the road until later this year, and the first vehicles aren't expected to be built until 2016, Russian officials showed off mockups a few weeks ago, complete with massive Russian seals on the doors and steering wheels
Currently, Putin and his entourage rely on stretched Mercedes-Benz S-Class sedans for official transportation. Obama's Cadillac — known as "The Beast" in diplomatic circles — is actually a rebodied Chevrolet Kodiak medium-duty truck retrofitted with armor panels and other protection by General Motors under the Secret Service's directives. (Cadillac has provided the presidential limo since 1993).
While Russia has several truck makers and smaller car manufacturers who partner with Western firms, Project Cortege requires a new level of engineering resources — enough so that the Putin government is estimated to have dedicated somewhere between $150 million and $400 million to develop the new vehicle line.
In the Soviet era, leaders rode around in squared-off ZIL sedans, and while the company is one of those involved with the new design, Putin has made clear that Soviet-era thinking won't be allowed, reportedly rejecting early designs that were too squared off. By 2016, Putin will only have two years left on his term as Russian president to enjoy riding in the outcome of Project Cortege, although history suggests he'll find a way to keep rolling in power well beyond that deadline.