Tuesday, September 6, 2011

In Michigan, Android Industries works on MV-1, first vehicle built specifically for disabled people

From The Flint Journal:

FLINT TOWNSHIP, Michigan — The Flint area is helping make another automotive first this fall.

With help from a manufacturer in Flint Township, a Miami-based automaker is ready to roll out the first vehicle specifically produced to transport people in wheelchairs by October.

Vehicle Production Group’s flagship vehicle — the MV-1 — is being produced by Android Industries in Flint Township.

Right now, about 60 vehicles are being produced a week but the company hopes to increase that to about 9,000 per year in 2012, said Matt DeMars, president and chief operating officer of VPG.

VPG bills the MV-1 as a revolutionary vehicle because it was designed and built from the ground up with wheelchair users in mind.

“It really gives the disabled freedom,” DeMars said. “It creates independence for people getting out in to the world.”

Vehicles that are altered for the disabled can have design flaws, fall short of meeting all the needs of a disabled person and sometimes are too large for garages, said Dave Schembri, chief executive officer of VPG.

Schembri, who previously served as president of Smart Car USA, said the company was founded to fulfill the needs of the disabled market.

The vehicle, which resembles a Chevrolet Tahoe, allows easier access for passengers who are wheelchair users. They enter the vehicle through built-in ramp that comes out of the side.

“It’s really all in the structure of the vehicle,” Schembri said.

The vehicle comes in a standard and deluxe models that offer manual and power wheelchair ramps, respectively. The base model costs $39,950 and the deluxe model is $41,950.

Mike Frazure of Ann Arbor is waiting for his MV-1 one to arrive and said he’s ecstatic to own a car that’s geared toward the disabled that actually fits in his garage. His daughter, Emily, 27, uses a wheelchair.

“What’s perfect for us is that it will be much easier for her to enter the vehicle with the built-in ramp while it’s still in the garage without having to go out into the cold and ice,” he said.

Although manufactured at the Android Industries facility on Maple Road, the vehicle is assembled in Indiana. Android Industries produces the chassis and parts that make up MV-1. It also sprays them with a new, eco-friendly rust-preventative coating.

The MV-1 contract has helped the auto supplier regain some of the work it lost when General Motors stopped using it for its truck plant in Flint, which forced the layoff of 260 workers in 2010.

The vehicle has helped bring about 23 of those jobs back, said June Nagle, business unit director for Android’s Flint campus.

Android currently has about 60 employees in Flint.

If the MV-1 takes off, maybe the company can employ more than of 500 people again, Nagle said.

“The MV-1 has been the initial lifeblood of revitalizing our Maple Road facility,” she said.

VPG will launch sales of the MV-1 at 40-50 dealers nationwide, including Serra Automotive locally, which handles all orders for the MV-1 in Michigan.

“It’s a niche vehicle and it is tremendously needed,” said Joe Serra, president of Serra Automotive. “It’s going to be a great value to those that this vehicle would benefit.”