The US President’s Limousines Abroad

A US Presidential limousine in India (Photo: Paul Morse / White House)

I once got into a conversation with a friend about how the President of the United States travels outside of Washington. My friend seemed to think that a limousine company was hired for the president when he traveled. This is not the case, as any keen observer will tell you. Whether in Iowa or India, the US President is driven in a US Secret Service limousine or SUV with Washington, DC plates. These vehicles are heavily armored and custom made to US specifications. The Secret Service would never allow the president to travel in anything that wasn’t heavily armored. So how do they transport the vehicles to all parts of the world? The vehicles are sent ahead of any presidential trip on a C-17 Globemaster of C-5 Galaxy. In fact, all kinds of assets are sent ahead of the president including VH-60N helicopters to serve as Marine One.

A US Presidential limousine being loaded on to a C-17 (Photo: D. Winslow)

For the most part, the US President and Vice-President are the only world leaders that bring cars and helicopters with them. Almost every other head of state or head of government is provided transportation by the host country when they travel abroad. The only other country to insist on packing their own vehicles is the Russian Federation. For both Russia and the United States, the argument for using their own transportation abroad is so that their security officials can ensure the safety of their country’s leaders. This would make sense for the US President as his vehicles are custom-made and full of classified security equipment, likely not found in other cars. It appears the Russian President is driven around in a factory-armored Mercedes-Benz S-Class Pullman limousine, one of the most common vehicles for transporting heads of state. In fact, most presidents and prime ministers are driven around in armored, German luxury vehicles. It is unclear if the Russian vehicles have additional security equipment not found in other Mercedes-Benz armored cars but it is clear that there is a sort of prestige in having the capability of transporting vehicles all over the world. It’s the kind of thing superpowers do. One last note: the Vatican, on some occasions, will ship a Popemobile to a country the Pope will be traveling to but this is less for security reasons and more for well-wishers getting a good view of him. I will go into more detail about Popemobiles in the future.

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