Pope Francis, known for his sincerity and frugality, has picked Kia Motors’ Soul compact car as his limo throughout his planned five-day visit to South Korea from Thursday.
According to the preparatory committee on Wednesday, the head of the Roman Catholic Church initially asked to ride in the “smallest car in Korea” during his first papal trip to Asia.
Upon his request, several compacts such as Kia Motors’ Morning and Ray and GM Korea’s Chevrolet Spark were cited as possible candidates for the Popemobile.
But due to safety issues, the Seoul committee said the pope’s final choice was the Kia Soul, which is slightly bigger than most compact cars at 1,600 cc. The starting sticker price of the Soul stands at 14.5 million won ($14,100).
“It hurts me when I see a priest or nun with the latest-model car. You can’t do this,” the pope said earlier in an interview. “A car is necessary to do a lot of work, but, please, choose a more humble one.”
As his comments suggest, choosing the Soul appeared to be a reflection of the pope’s thrifty lifestyle.
Since an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, the head of the Roman Catholic Church has used the custom-made, bullet-proof Popemobile.
Despite such risks, Pope Francis has preferred an open-topped vehicle for tours through crowds in St. Peter’s Square.
In his first visit to Brazil last year, he made his way from the international airport to downtown Rio in a modest motorcade, riding in a compact Fiat with the window open.
Unlike his predecessor, Pope Benedict, who used to ride in a BMW X5 or a Mercedes, Francis’ commuting limo in the Vatican is also a compact sedan, the Ford Focus.
Even though Kia officials in Seoul seem to welcome the Soul being the Popemobile, they declined to comment on the issue due to the sensitivity of the first papal visit to Korea in 25 years.
“We have not been informed on the trim or color of the car that the pope will ride in,” said a Kia official. “We also want to make it clear that we have no plans to use the holy occasion as a marketing opportunity. It wouldn’t be right.”
Industry watchers, however, predicted that Kia, an affiliate of Hyundai Motor, would indeed have the chance to raise its brand awareness during his visit as the pope’s tours to Korean cities would be broadcasted globally through the international media.
Contrary to lukewarm domestic sales, the Kia Soul is enjoying much popularity in overseas markets.
In the first half of this year when the car sold 2,300 units on its home turf, it sold 75,000 in the United States, 4,400 in Europe and 2,800 in South America.
By Lee Ji-yoon (firstname.lastname@example.org)