4:30 pm traffic on the 405 is not a fun way to spend 2 hours when you live only 35 miles from the office. Watching the guy ahead of you slam on his brakes every few feet over and over again gets annoying as the fast lane becomes nothing more than a parking lot. To my right, the three other freeway lanes show no sign of movement either. To my left, happy carpoolers and speeding Prii whiz on by. Keeping count as Prius, van, truck, truck, Prius, van, SUV, SUV...what was that!?!, Prius, Prius...pass on by.
As I watched the carpoolers' taillights disappear ahead of me while cursing them under my breath, my attention was broken by a rear hatch that looked like a Land Rover crossbred with Kia Soul and a minivan from the U.K. I also caught a glimpse of the CNG stickers on the rear bumper. Due to my lack of movement, it was out of my sight in seconds. Just when I though I'd miss my chance to get a better view of it, the traffic gods of L.A. brought the carpool lane to a stop; and I grabbed the only camera I had at hand, the cell-phone.
Creeping closer and keeping stealthy with my lack of fancy camera, I snapped off a few photos. Getting a better view of the front of this vehicle confused me even more. The headlights had the current F-150 shape, the nose looked Honda Element-like, and the wheel arches were squared off like a GMC Sierra's. With the sun glaring in my sideview mirrors, I couldn't read the make on the front grille badge as I passed him slowly from the fast lane.
Okay, so what is it? No, it isn't a van from the U.K. testing in North America. No, it isn't the next-gen Honda Element, and it is certainly not the Suzuki X-head concept seen at the 2007 Tokyo auto show.
With some digging, here's what I found.
It's called the VPG MV-1 and it's built in the U.S. by AM General LLC. The MV-1 is a purpose-built wheelchair-accessibility vehicle designed from the ground up. The first nonconversion light-duty passenger car built to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act vehicle guidelines.
It sits on a full box frame, body-on-frame chassis and is built in at the former Hummer H2 assembly facility in Mishawaka, Indiana. The MV-1 features a deployable access ramp with a 1200-pound weight capacity, a 36-inch-wide entryway, 190 cubic feet of interior volume, and comfortable seating for up to six people. It's equipped with the Ford 4.6-liter V-8 engine and electronic four-speed automatic transmission.
(Which may explain why the headlights and the front grille appear F-150 like.)
In addition to a gasoline engine, the MV-1 is the only vehicle in its class to offer an OEM-engineered and assembled dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) powertrain option. Three lightweight tanks are integrated into the vehicle design, without sacrificing storage capacity and offer an estimated 290-mile range.
The MV-1 is set for production early this spring and will roll out with two trim levels. The Base model starts at $39,950* and comes standard with electronic stability control, anti-lock braking system, an integrated deployable ramp, anti-slip floor and ramp surface, Q-Straint Wheelchair Restraint Track System, and a six-way-adjustable commercial driver's seat.
The Deluxe model includes the standard features on the Base model, plus a telescoping power access ramp, rear window wiper, cruise control, and cargo area floor trim package. Starting price is $41,950*.
Both models are available with either a traditional gasoline engine or the optional CNG fuel system for an additional $9000*.
(*Price excludes dealer prep, documentation fees, freight, taxes, and licensing.)
Wheelbase: 122.0 in
Length: 205.0 in
Height: 75 in
Width: 79.4 in
Curb weight: 4,985 lbs
GVWR: 6,600 lbs
Turning circle: 36 ft
Cargo volume index - gasoline: 36.4 ft 3
Cargo volume index - CNG: 29.1 ft 3
Access door opening useable width: 36 in
Access door opening useable height: 56 in
Interior height at rear wheelchair position: 59.5 in
Interior height at front wheelchair position: 58.3 in
Overall interior floor length: 81.5 in
Interior width at B-pillars: 64.5 in
Vehicle ground clearance (minimum): 6 in
Suspension: A de Dion rear suspension with steel-leaf springs and air shocks to deliver an extremely comfortable ride for all passengers. Front short long arm suspension provides a tight turning radius and rack-and-pinion steering.
Brakes: Anti-lock brake system and traction control come standard. Four-wheel disc brakes designed with large rotors for improved lining life and the ability to handle the best-in-class gross vehicle weight of 6600 lb.
To learn more about the MV-1, visit http://www.vpgautos.com/