Article by Consumer Guide Automotive

A new vehicle from an emerging brand made its auto-show debut at the 2012 New York Auto Show.

The VPG MV-1 (which stands for First Mobility Vehicle) is designed and built specifically for wheelchair users. Unlike competitors, which sell minivans that need conversion for wheelchair access by aftermarket upfitters, the MV-1 was developed from the start as a vehicle specifically tailored for those who rely on wheelchairs and other assistive devices. The company says the vehicle is the only one that meets or exceeds all guidelines set by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

As such, the 4-door MV-1 has a ramp that deploys on the passenger side from underneath the floor. A manual-operation ramp is standard. An electrically deploying and telescopic ramp is optional. The ramp is rated to support up to 1,200 pounds. The side door is 56 inches high and 36 inches wide. The interior is 5 feet tall from floor-to-ceiling. Maximum passenger capacity is 6, including two wheelchairs, plus the driver.

The MV-1 uses a truck-like body-on-frame design. Roush, the company known for modifying Ford’s Mustang sporty/performance car and converting Ford pickup trucks to run on compressed natural gas (CNG), is responsible for the chassis design. Under the hood of the MV-1 resides the drivetrain formerly used in the Ford Crown Victoria: a 4.6-liter V8 connected to a 4-speed automatic transmission. The MV-1 is rear-wheel drive. Additionally, the MV-1 uses gasoline and can be equipped to run on CNG.

The VPG MV-1 comes in two trim levels. The base Standard vehicle includes the manually-deployable ramp, power windows/locks/mirrors, a commercial-grade power driver seat, four 12-volt power outlets, rear heat and air conditioning vents, a wheelchair-restraint track system, rear self-leveling air suspension, and cloth upholstery. Also, the floor and ramp are covered with an anti-slip material. The range-topping Deluxe model includes the telescopic power ramp, rear window wiper, cruise control, CD player, front-seat center console with 12-volt power outlet, and a cargo-area floor-trim package. Options include a rear-facing “jump” seat behind the driver and CNG capability.

VPG (which stands for Vehicle Production Group LLC) says the MV-1 meets Federal safety and crash standards. Safety features include ABS, traction control, antiskid system, and a driver-side airbag.

The VPG MV-1 is built by AM General in the plant that formerly produced Hummer H2 premium-midsize SUVs. The MV-1 is currently on sale to the public and fleets. It starts around $40,000.

CG Says:

Though wheelchair-accessible vehicles are not our area of expertise, this vehicle looks to be a game changer. Designed with the needs of mobility-challenged individuals in mind, this vehicle has several thoughtful features, including a tall build with cavernous interior space for the maneuvering of wheelchairs, a power-deployable ramp that can be set to extend to different lengths for all loading situations, and a standard-equipped commercial-grade driver seat developed for livery drivers who spend hours in their vehicles. The company says their vehicle is superior to minivans converted by aftermarket upfitters. Though we haven’t driven this vehicle (and we may never), we’re inclined to agree, because a purpose-built tool usually performs its tasks better than anything modified after-the-fact.

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A Checker for the 21st Century
By Frank Markus

Nissan made a lot of noise in New York showing off its NV200-van based "Taxi of Tomorrow," so called because it won the New York Taxi and Limousine Commission's contest of the same name. But lost in the party atmosphere was the fact that no contract has been officially signed. Why not? In part because of a court case--Christopher Noel, et al, versus New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission, et al,--alleging that the TLC violated Title II, section A of the Americans with disabilities act by selecting a taxi design that is not 100-percent wheelchair accessible, as some of the contending designs were. Last December, Manhattan federal court judge George Daniels ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, but the city won a stay of that decision pending appeal. Oral arguments in the appeals case are scheduled for April 19. What might happen if the NV200 contract unravels?

There is a dedicated taxi/mobility vehicle option tooled, in production, and ready to step into the void, produced by a start-up American car company you may never have heard of. The company is Vehicle Production Group, of Miami, Florida -- a lean start-up funded with $350 million in private equity that began production of its Buy America-certified vehicle in a UAW-staffed plant in Mishawaka, Indiana, last September. This taxicab/limo/wheelchair mobility vehicle, called the MV-1, was on display at the New York International Auto Show. The model name reflects the company's claim that this is the first factory-built mobility vehicle. The design utilizes myriad components from Tier-1 suppliers and was tailored to fit the idled tooling that used to build the Hummer H2. AM General handles assembly, parts, and warranty logistics.

The styling looks like an SUV-ish riff on the traditional London cab, with a low-step-in (or roll aboard) flat floor and oodles of headroom. Dimensionally, it measures 8.0 inches shorter in length, 2.1 inches wider, and 18.2 inches taller than the Crown Vic. The rear doors swing open (90 degrees on the passenger side) to reveal a bench seat wide enough for three amply proportioned passengers. An optional ($349) rear-facing jump seat behind the driver accommodates a fourth, and standard anchoring plates are fitted to secure two wheelchairs, though locking down the second one precludes use of the right half of the bench seat. There is currently no provision for fitting a front passenger seat, though one is being considered, along with a passenger airbag.

Taxi fleet operators will be plenty familiar with the 4.6-liter Ford V-8 engine and four-speed automatic transmission powering the initial run of MV-1s, fueled either by gasoline or compressed natural gas. The CNG option adds $9000 and includes three 3600-psi tanks that raise the luggage-area floor by about 9 inches and provide 320 miles of range. CNG refueling stations are reportedly plentiful in NYC and the fuel is priced some $2/gallon equivalent cheaper than gasoline. Phasing in Ford's 3.7-liter V-6 will eventually stretch that range to 400 miles. The body-on-frame design was designed and developed with assistance from Roush Engineering. The ladder frame incorporates a control-arm/coil spring front suspension and a unique rear setup that combines a Chevy Camaro's differential with a leaf-sprung aluminum tube deDion axle assisted by load-leveling air springs to keep things even when approaching the 6600-pound gross-vehicle-weight rating.

VPG is aiming the MV-1 at three market segments: wheelchair mobility transportation providers, taxi/limousine livery services, and consumers. Three models are offered: a base SE with a manual slide-out wheelchair ramp for $40,925; DX, with a power-operated ramp, stereo, cruise control, rear wiper and driver's cupholder console for $42,925; and the fancier LX model that made its debut in New York (pricing TBD), with Bentley-esque diamond-stitched leather upholstery, egregiously fake wood trim, aluminum wheels, chrome accents and body-colored mirror caps. Ah, yes, colors? Besides basic black and yellow, silver, white, red, and blue are offered.

While in New York, we stopped by Manhattan Motor Cars, the local Rolls/Bentley/Lamborghini/Lotus/Porsche/VPG dealer, and test-drove an MV-1 DX. It drives like a Checker for the 21st century--deliberate but decent acceleration geared primarily for around-town use; easily modulated brakes; and artificially stiff, communication-free steering. The ride quality was quite plush as body-on-frame trucks go, and cabin noise levels were reasonable. Visibility out the giant side windows is excellent, though no skyscraper-viewing panoramic sunroof is offered.

The price difference between Nissan's NV200 and the VPG's MV-1 is about what Braun will charge to convert an NV200 to accommodate a wheelchair, but that conversion involves structural modifications that could compromise longevity, and the design requires the wheelchair rider to enter from the rear, which is less convenient and less safe than ramp access directly from the curb. If legal challenges oust the NV200 (not terribly likely), VPG is tooled to build 70,000 MV-1s per year, and even if it doesn't become New York's official Taxi of Tomorrow, you can hail one today in Chicago, Pittsburgh, and (soon) Dallas, or buy your own at one of 40 dealers nationwide.

Read more: http://m.motortrend.com/roadtests/alternative/1204_vpg_mv_1_first_drive/index.html#ixzz1vXjTiK6D