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First factory-built wheelchair-accessible vehicle hits the market

Fri, 23 Sep 2011

Before Wednesday, the only wheelchair-accessible vehicles available to the public were aftermarket conversions that generally came with structural modifications and a price tag ranging from $50,000 to $80,000.

Now, a startup company called the Vehicle Production Group (VPG) has released the first vehicle specifically assembled to accommodate people in wheelchairs, with an MSRP of $39,950.

The vehicle is called the MV-1, which stands for Mobility Vehicle 1, and it was built for the disabled community.

VPG is manufacturing the MV-1 out of the AM General plant (R.I.P. Hummer) in Indiana at 12--soon to be 20--units per day. Production is sold out for this year, and the vehicle is already available through 41 U.S. dealers. That number is expected to grow to 60 to 80 within the next few months.

At Wednesday's launch event in Indiana, the first MV-1 was handed over to Marc Buoniconti, a former Citadel football player paralyzed from the neck down more than 25 years ago.

Of the MV-1, Buoniconti remarked that “it is not an afterthought,” unlike converted products from other manufacturers.

VPG chairman Fred Drasner said that the company saw the MV-1 as a needs-based product: Currently, 10 million Americans use an ambulatory aid; 4 million are in wheelchairs; and 54 million are disabled. Those numbers are expected to rise as the baby-boomer generation continues to reach retirement age.

VPG expects 12,000 copies of the MV-1 to be produced next year and 25,000 the year after. The company already has 4,000 standing orders.

Considering the market, competition is expected to be fierce. For instance, Vantage Mobility International has been producing minivan mobility conversion vehicles for nearly two decades, and CEO Doug Eaton says that consumers have been satisfied with their products.

“Our track record proves that they are safe, fuel-efficient and offer innovative features that people really want,” Eaton said. “We'd welcome a comparison test.”

According to VPG, the MV-1 offers more headroom and a bigger door opening than any conversion vehicle available. It has an integrated ramp and step-in feature, and it can accommodate four people in wheelchairs, plus four other adults along with luggage.

As part of its purpose-built appeal, VPG also claims the MV-1 is safer and more durable than converted vehicles, which generally do not meet NHTSA crash-test and safety standards, traditionally have been. The MV-1 was built to comply with those standards, and it also comes with a five-year, 75,000-mile new-vehicle warranty.

Power for the MV-1 is supplied by a Ford 4.6-liter V8 engine capable of running on either gasoline (for 15 mpg combined) or compressed natural gas (for 13.5 mpg).

On our brief test drive, the MV-1 proved to be comfortable and surprisingly powerful thanks to rear-wheel drive and 248 hp.

The base MV-1 SE starts at $39,950, which includes antilock brakes and stability control, a deployable manual ramp with antislip-surface treatment, antislip treatment on the flooring, a wheelchair-restraint track system and a six-way adjustable driver's seat.

The upgraded DX goes for $41,950 and adds a telescoping power ramp with lighting, rear window wiper, cruise control and a cargo-area floor-trim package.

Both trims are available in white, black, silver, red or dark blue. A factory-installed compressed-natural-gas system is optional for both models.

VPG said it is already looking into opportunities for international distribution of the MV-1 and has started investigating options for bringing the vehicle to market in Canada.

For more details, visit

By Michelle Koueiter