Toronto designer wins international award for Popemobile redesign

Canadian Eric Leong (left) and Han Yong-fei of France with their winning popemobile design. Photo courtesy of Eric …Toronto native Eric Leong and Frenchman Han Yong-fei, Leong's classmate at Sweden's Umea Institute of Design, won the 2012 Autostyle Design Competition for their new-and-improved Popemobile.

Contestants, all design students, competing in the annual event were given specific requirements: the vehicle had to be safe and eco-friendly, based on a hybrid concept, and the Pope had to be visible from the back — protected by bulletproof glass.

"Leong and Han incorporated emerging technologies in their design, including super-tough spider silk infused with titanium, and a spray-on battery technology developed by scientists at Rice University in Texas this summer," the Toronto Star reported. "The design also included bulletproof Kevlar-belted wheels and a solar panel on the roof to please the eco-minded Pope Benedict XVI."

The duo used a modified hybrid Volkwagen Cross Coupe in their design — and made sure that their high-tech Popemobile was actually a real-world possibility.

"Everything we've proposed is something attainable," said Leong. "The spray-on battery is real, it's not fiction."

"There are things that we could have done that might have looked really cool," Leong told the Catholic Register. "Even though it might seem cool, being blue sky is something that we didn't want to do because it's not in a way feasible or possible."

This year marked the first time the annual Autostyle Design Competition had a special category for a Popemobile, according to L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper.

"Pope Benedict XVI has frequently spoken of the importance of protecting the environment, and according to Vatican officials, is committed to saving energy at the Vatican. The Vatican has said its aim is to use renewable energy sources for 20 per cent of its energy needs by 2020, the target date set by the European Union for its members," the Catholic Register reported.