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The MV-1 is the first specially designed, engineered and factory-built wheelchair-accessible car. It was developed by Vehicle Production Group (VPG), an American company that is just five years old.

Up to now, the only way for someone to get a wheelchair-accessible automobile was to custom-adapt a new or used vehicle, or buy one from a conversion company. "Either option is generally quite expensive and compromises the structural integrity of the vehicle, as well as the safety and warranty," said Dave Schembri, CEO of VPG.

The MV-1 comes at a defining moment: the 20th anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Since the ADA was implemented, accessibility to curbs, restaurants, hotels and sports arenas, etc. has become a given. But factory-direct automobiles? Not one.

"VPG is proud to be the first manufacturer to provide people with mobility issues with a purpose-built vehicle that offers ease of entry and exit, as well as a more comfortable ride," said Schembri.

The MV-1 meets all the guidelines of the ADA and marks a major turning point for the 14 million American adults who use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. "My (now deceased) sister Connie was wheelchair-dependent in the late '80s and '90s. I can't tell you how important this vehicle would have been to her," said Schembri, noting that Connie's memory is what "drives him."

Access is gained via a deployable ramp that can take 1,200 pounds. This leads to a large opening (36 inches wide by 56 inches high) and a roomy interior that can seat up to seven (including two wheelchair-dependent passengers), with an optional jump seat.

Another first is that a wheelchair-dependent passenger can ride shotgun – up front next to the driver, with the ability to look out the front. Other features such as the hard, anti-slip floor (carpets are hell on wheels) and touch points for sight-impaired individuals, make the MV-1 even more well suited to its purpose. On a related note, the company's business cards are printed in Braille.

"This vehicle has huge potential for both the commercial fleet market (para-transit, taxicabs, rental cars and limos) and the retail customer," said Schembri. The company has 4,000 reservations for the MV-1 so far. It will be built at the AM General assembly plant in Mishawaka, Indiana – the same factory that manufactured the Hummer H2.

More good news, according to Schembri, is that VPG will help create or save upwards of 1,000 jobs between direct and supplier positions nationwide. "In addition, this car delivers on America's environmental front as well," he said. Schembri is referring to the optional compressed natural gas (CNG) system that fuels the MV-1's Ford 4.6-liter V8. The standard energy source is gasoline.

The MV-1 is due to go on sale in later this year, with an expected starting price of $40,000. Customers can build their own model by clicking on www.vpgautos.com.

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Holly Reich writes about cars, travel, lifestyle and more. Her work has been featured in publications that include: Elite Traveler, The New York Daily News, The Washington Post and The Boston Herald. She contributes monthly to Motor Matters syndicate and her blog, "Riffs on Rides," appears on uptownlife.net.

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