Vital Stats

Engine:
4.6L V8
Power:
248 HP / 295 LB-FT
Transmission:
4-Speed Automatic
Drivetrain:
Rear-Wheel Drive
Seating:
4 + 1 wheelchair
MPG:
15 Combined
A Long-Overdue Entry In An Otherwise Overlooked Segment



A round of applause broke out as Marc Buoniconti, former linebacker for The Citadel, ascended the ramp of the very first VPG Autos MV-1 to roll off the assembly line inside AM General's plant near South Bend, Indiana. Buoniconti was rendered a quadriplegic after a gruesome tackle while playing football for his South Carolina alma mater. That was back in 1985 and Buoniconti has been wheelchair-bound for the past 26 years. Since then, he has gone on to start The Buoniconti Fund, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis, and been heavily involved in the development of what you see here – the very first purpose-built, OEM-backed vehicle designed specifically to accommodate the needs of the disabled.

The MV-1 is a strange hodgepodge of engineering, but its mission is clear: To offer a mobility solution for the disabled that costs substantially less than aftermarket minivan conversions available today. Right now, VPG says there are some 1.5 million vehicles on the road that have been converted for wheelchair access, all from third-party companies who augment a factory vehicle's chassis and interior at substantial cost. "Aftermarket means afterthought," says Buoniconti, and the team at VPG Autos aims to offer a factory-crafted solution for an otherwise overlooked segment of the automotive landscape.
January of 2009 marked the end of Hummer H2 production at AM General's facility in South Bend, and although the company continues to build and engineer Humvees for military use, the plant was largely unused until VPG Autos stepped in. Now, the facility has the capacity to build approximately 12 MV-1s each day, and soon, production will increase to a 20-unit clip as demand increases.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 side view2011 VPG Autos MV-1 front view2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear 3/4 view

The key feature of the MV-1 is its easy wheelchair access, and thus, the entire vehicle has been designed around its side door ramp system. That ramp, supplied by ASC, has a 1,200-pound weight capacity (600 pounds more than the Americans with Disabilities Act requires), and is available with a power rollout function on Deluxe (DE) models. The ramp is housed under the floor of the rear passenger compartment and is easily accessible for all types of wheelchairs. The rear doors offer an opening that's 36 inches wide and 56 inches tall, and inside, one wheelchair can be anchored in the front passenger position, while seating for either three or four passengers can be had in the rear. All in, the MV-1 is capable of carrying up to 6,600 pounds.

To support this sort of weight, the MV-1 uses body-on-frame architecture, with a chassis specifically designed for the application. While it's not exactly pretty, the MV-1 radiates purpose, looking like the strange lovechild of a London taxi and GMC Terrain.

As for interior amenities, the MV-1 is essentially a utility van, so you won't find soft-touch dash materials, nicely grained plastics or any optional high-tech gadgetry. Instead, you have a commanding driving position with a comfortable, air-suspended seat situated behind a steering wheel that appears to have been ripped out of a Lincoln MKS. The instrument panel, gauge cluster, audio and HVAC controls are pure Ford E-Series and the simple driver's compartment is elementary yet well-organized.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 interior2011 VPG Autos MV-1 interior2011 VPG Autos MV-1 ramp2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear cargo area

We had the opportunity to briefly drive the MV-1 on the roads near AM General's facility, and as you can imagine, it behaves like almost any other body-on-frame van we've ever spent time in. Power comes from a Ford-sourced 4.6-liter V8 producing 248 horsepower and 295 pound-feet of torque that's mated to a four-speed automatic transmission. It seems like ancient technology, yes, but it's cheap to source, cheaper to service and gets the job done. A compressed natural gas version is also available, utilizing two tanks situated under the rear seat and offering a 300-mile cruising range. VPG says that the CNG version will return approximately 13.5 miles per gallon (combined), with the gasoline-powered version netting around 15 mpg.

The MV-1 isn't all that unpleasant to steer, though we imagine the experience is vastly different when it's loaded up full of people. Acceleration is perfectly adequate for a vehicle its size and function, and we found key driving components like the steering and brakes to be tuned for ease of use uber alles. Other key drivability factors like general visibility and suspension tuning are also more than acceptable, and although its body-on-frame architecture does give it a truck-like feeling from behind the wheel, it's smooth enough to offer a comfortable ride for passengers in wheelchairs and seats alike.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 headlight2011 VPG Autos MV-1 grille2011 VPG Autos MV-1 wheel2011 VPG Autos MV-1 taillight

Let's be clear, though – the MV-1 does not allow its wheelchair-bound occupants to drive on their own. Some aftermarket companies have created steering column-mounted hand controls to operate the throttle and brakes, but this is not the case with VPG's creation. Instead, its sole purpose is to allow easy access and maneuverability for folks in wheelchairs that will only ride as passengers.

VPG Autos plans to sell the MV-1 through a wide range of existing new car dealerships across the country, and as of this writing, 41 dealers have currently signed on, with another 15 slated to be added in the coming months. The key to spreading the word about the MV-1 will be what the company executives call "discover marketing" – the vehicle will be taken to places like hospitals and rehabilitation centers for people to check out and the company is largely relying on word of mouth within the disabled community to communicate the advantages of the MV-1.

2011 VPG Autos MV-1 rear 3/4 view

The greatest advantage, however, is the MV-1's price: $39,950 for the base SE and $41,950 for the up-market DE. For comparison's sake, a typical aftermarket conversion costs around $25,000, and when you add that to the cost of a well-equipped minivan like a Dodge Grand Caravan, the price can easily reach $55K or $60K. Even then, going the aftermarket route means you get a vehicle that's been chopped up to accommodate a purpose it was never intended to serve, and VPG Autos includes its own five-year/75,000-mile powertrain warranty. Currently, the MV-1 is already sold out for its first year of production, with initial deliveries taking place as you read this.

"Everything in our lives revolves around transportation," Buoniconti said upon exiting the black MV-1 with VIN #000001 – the vehicle that would soon be delivered to his Florida home. And by offering a mobile solution for tens of thousands of dollars less than an aftermarket upfit job, the folks at VPG, in collaboration with AM General, offer a purpose-built answer to an important question that no other OEM has even been asking.


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    • 1 Second Ago
  • 72 Comments
      stever
      • 3 Years Ago
      RING TIME?
      Sprinter Owner
      • 3 Years Ago
      A good idea two years too late. Mobility Works in Akron Ohio and other aftermarket firms modify Ford Transit Connects for this purpose and they will seat five ambulatory individuals or a wheelchair bound person and three others while getting 21/27 MPG. My company owns a Mobility Works Transit Connect and it is perfect for this application...and only $35,000.
      emperor koku
      • 3 Years Ago
      I actually think it's very cool looking. The only thing I don't get, is why it isn't equipped to allow disabled passengers to drive? Even as an option?
        Elmo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @emperor koku
        Because it's built to transport disabled passengers, not let them drive. These are for the disabled passengers who have absolutely no motor functions and can't drive.
          Synthono
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          But why not also have the option available for disabled passengers who have motor functions but still need a vehicle that can accommodate a wheelchair easily? It's not to say all models must be so equipped, but there is a market for one with steering wheel controls.
      Doug Danzeisen Sr
      • 3 Years Ago
      Good job VPG autos! Having driven various converted vans for wheelchair use I can tell you that the conversion vans leave much to be desired. Wheelchairs that should fit often don't, and don't even get me started on the squeaks, rattles, and other assorted noises which have largely vanished from production autos. Form follows function in this instance- it is a wonderful thing that few of us need this type of vehicle- and an even better thing that a company stepped up and made something, here in America, that offers a better vehicle for less money. That is a good thing- now about those wheel covers.......
        Roy Avery
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Doug Danzeisen Sr
        All yours at 15mpg! Must of been a cheap conversion, I just rode in a new one squeak and rattle free and big wheelchairs fit.
      throwback
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is long overdue, but the styling needs work. I'm sure folks in wheelchairs appreciate good looking cars too.
        Elmo
        • 3 Years Ago
        @throwback
        I don't think they really care. It's a capable vehicle to get them around from place to place.
          Roy Avery
          • 3 Years Ago
          @Elmo
          I care, definitely needs a style update but when you start out a taxi design that is what you get!
      Darnell Robeson
      • 3 Years Ago
      looks like a something Honda would sell us, but as an SUV not a mobility vehicle
        IntegraVT
        • 3 Years Ago
        @Darnell Robeson
        Exactly, most laymen would see this on the road and think it's a puffy Honda Element.
      JaredN
      • 3 Years Ago
      This is a good thing. I drove a wheelchair conversion minivan a few times back when my late father-in-law was in hospice. It sucked. Hopefully this purpose-built vehicle will be far better.
        Rhonda Marie Eidet
        • 1 Year Ago
        @JaredN
        I don't care what it looks like, I like it, except it is rear wheel drive, still don't understand that. But yes, a chopped up minivan is not ideal. especially when your child is growing and wheelchairs are not small in anyway. There is some difference in gas usage. But it does have more torque than the new modified minivans. Those that do think its cool looking and want one, I so want to say sure you can have it, can you take the disability along with it. I do miss a car still.
      peterm
      • 1 Year Ago
      American ingenuity at it's finest !
      Teri Johnson
      • 2 Years Ago
      Were going to test drive one this Friday and get 100 dollars for doing it. My first thought when I saw it was, it's new on the market, there definetly has to be bugs to be worked out, then being built at a old hummer factory, I heard that Hummers were so mass produced that they ended up having lots of problems, not fond of Fords either. What is appealing is that it's not cut up and put back together, the fact that it's made in the USA. Our way of getting around now is, we bought a trailer frame from Harbor Freight, paid some one to put it together, put some sides on it, bought an aluminum ramp, wheel the power chair up the ramp, tie down the chair, strap the ramp on the side and pray to God that nothing falls off, the first few months I would check the rear view mirror and my husband would keep an eye one the passenger mirror to make sure the ramp was still strapped on, I would ask him is the ramp still on, he'd say yes and he'd ask me if the chair was still there, luckily we haven't lost anything but we got close with the ramp, we had someone steal our first one. We always take into consideration someone has worse off than we do. We're going to check out the modified vans also. We will see. May the best van win.
      Allen Aventador
      • 3 Years Ago
      great job AM General!!!! i m sorry to everyone who doesn't like this truck but i love what it looks like cuz its an old school body on frame V8. would love to get one in black to convert it to a full on cruiser :) its better looking then any minivan in my opinion.
      DeBinder
      • 3 Years Ago
      This vehicle offers much, much more than a mobility solution for the disabled. It's commercial applications are endless, while its personal appeal to individual buyers as a vehicle for everyman's transportation needs is clear and present. It fills the needs between the range of a full-size Freightliner/Mercedes/ Dodge Sprinter Van and a Ford Transit with yet another option, while not competing with Vans and minivans. They should offer it to the general public and price it accordingly. There's a lot of money to be made here.
        imoore
        • 3 Years Ago
        @DeBinder
        I agree. I wouldn't be surprised if they do just that.
        creamwobbly
        • 3 Years Ago
        @DeBinder
        Wait. What? The Transit is the same size as the Sprinter. Did you mean the Connect?
          Roy Avery
          • 3 Years Ago
          @creamwobbly
          If the rumors hold the Transit Van is US bound, better mpg and basically lift ready.
      MAX
      • 3 Years Ago
      Hey this looks much better than the Pilot or a 4runner.
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