Wheels for Wheelchairs

A Miami car company will make history this month when its first vehicles begin rolling off the assembly line. Vehicle Production Group’s MV-1 is the first factory-built automobile designed for wheelchair passengers.

The MV-1 can accommodate wheelchairs in the front passenger area and has a built-in access ramp, an extra-wide entry, lots of headroom and strong safety standards. It’s priced lower than conversions, starting at $39,950.

“This is a market that has been woefully underserved,” says Dave Schembri, VPG’s CEO. With some 4 million full-time wheelchair users in the U.S. alone, plus another 14 million Americans with severe mobility issues, the market includes individual consumers, taxicab companies, government paratransit services and limousine companies.

The 50-employee Vehicle Production Group uses Ford engines and transmissions and contracted Humvee manufacturer AM General to assemble the vehicles at AM General’s Indiana plant.

The company’s first buyer will be Marc Buoniconti, president and co-founder of the Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, the University of Miami’s spinal cord injury research center. A quadriplegic since he was injured playing in a college football game more than 25 years ago, Buoniconti has been consulting with VPG since he first saw the MV-1 prototype. “It’s not just one thing that makes this an awesome vehicle,” he says. “It’s the green technology; it’s the safety, price; it’s the fact that it’s been built for the
disabled community.”

The cars will be sold through VPG’s website, vpgautos.com, and a network of dealers, who are expected to take the MV-1 on the road to rehab hospitals, special needs group meetings, malls and other places where likely customers might gather. The company hopes they’ll soon be getting there by way of MV-1.

The MV-1 is the first factory-built vehicle in the U.S. that offers an optional compressed natural gas engine. The vehicle, which has an extra large entry, will start at about $40,000.

by Rochelle Broder-Singer

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