Pictured is a VPG MV1. Or rather, excuse me, a VPG MV-1. A lot of people ask me what these are, so here’s a proper explanation. Founded in the mid-2000s with $350 million in private equity (along with $50 million from the U.S. Department of Energy), Vehicle Production Group, more commonly denoted VPG, was a Miami-based automotive startup with an eye on capturing a piece of the mobility service market. They targeted wheelchair transportation providers, taxi and limousine livery services and eventually end-user consumers. Its first foray, the “Standard Taxi” looked like a Lego version of the MV-1 seen above — about what you would expect from a fledgling, startup automaker. See the vans for sale near you
The MV-1 was VPG’s second model — think of it as an Americanized version of the iconic London taxi. Built on an old AM General production line in Indiana that had been left dormant with the discontinuation of the Hummer H2, the MV-1 used a number of Ford and GM parts bin components and originally featured the tried-and-true 4.6-liter Ford V8. Proving to be a viable solution within the mobility market, the VPG MV-1 became a not-that-uncommon sight in urban areas starting around 2010.
A major turning point for VPG came when then-NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg announced an initiative to standardize the city’s taxi fleet, calling for automakers to submit ideas for one uniform “taxi of tomorrow.” The VPG MV-1 made a strong case, as it was designed and built in the U.S. by an American company, and it utilized readily available, easy-to-fix components and featured an integrated, ADA-compliant wheelchair ramp. VPG claimed it was ready to start building 70,000 units annually were it to win the contract. Unfortunately, in the spring of 2011, the contract was awarded to Nissan and its NV200 taxi van. Not long after this major inflection point, in 2013, VPG closed its doors and ended production of the MV-1.
But the story doesn’t end there. Seeing the potential in the MV-1, AM General quickly bought its rights and restarted production soon after VPG shut down the brand. The MV-1 is still on sale today, now with a Ford V6, as the only new, purpose-built, wheelchair-accessible vehicle on the market. About 2,000 are built annually on the same production line where AM General builds the Mercedes R-Class for the Chinese market. Altogether, the MV-1 offers a solution to wheelchair users unavailable anywhere else on the market: a purpose-built vehicle with a low wheelchair ramp angle, ample floor space in which to maneuver and the option for a wheelchair-bound individual to ride in the passenger seat — all things that many of us (and many cars) take for granted.
So keep your eyes peeled, as you’ll surely notice these around urban areas, providing private taxi-like transportation services. But now — instead of having to ask “What is that thing?” — you can announce to everyone that it is, in fact, an MV-1. I’m sure they’ll be dying to know. Find a van for sale
Chris O’Neill grew up in the rust belt and now lives in Salt Lake City, Utah. He managed to work in the auto industry for a while without once crashing a corporate fleet vehicle. On Instagram, he is the @MountainWestCarSpotter.