By on May 9, 2013

vpg-mv-1

Another auto maker that took Department of Energy money has gone bust. Vehicle Production Group, a producer of special vans designed to meet the needs of the disabled, has suspended operations and is due to be sold, according to Automotive News.

Former CEO John Walsh told AN that the move came after the company fell below a mandated cash threshold set by by the government.

“It was the right thing to do for the employees,” Walsh said. “Many people were going to continue to work there but not be paid, and I couldn’t sleep at night having that happen. It was the best financial decision to suspend the business.”

Walsh stressed that bankruptcy was not in the cards and that the company would likely be acquired by one of two companies, strongly hinting that AM General would be the eventual partner. AM General currently builds VPG’s MV-1 van at their plant in Indiana. So far, VPG has built 2,500 vans and has a backlog of about 2,300 orders. The MV-1 was powered by a 4.6L Ford V8 and used a modified London taxi platform.

VPG applied for the $50-million dollar loan as part of the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing program, the same one used by companies like Fisker. VPG was said to be using the loan to implement CNG technology on their vehicles.

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69 Comments on “Another DOE Backed Auto Maker Bites The Dust...”


  • avatar

    I would read into this, but I’ll just let my Conservative Talk host Jason Lewis tell me all about it. There’s already a minivan to meet the needs of the disabled. It’s called the Dodge Caravan.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Glad to know you don’t have an original thought of your own, only what conservative thought-speak radio tells you to think-speak. It was a loan. They’re still on the hook for it and apparently working on a partnership with AM General which may or may not work out, hardly the end of the world.

    • 0 avatar
      Flybrian

      First, taking any sort of word from ANY talk show host left or right re: an automobile says a lot.

      Second, I really invite you to do your own research regarding the intended market for this type of vehicle and the people who NEED and purchase them. If you aren’t handicapped or in need of such a car, you truly don’t understand.

    • 0 avatar
      Richard Chen

      The MV-1 stickers at about $43K, but has a built-in ramp. The Caravan conversions cost just as much new.

      CNG is 9K extra.

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      This offers certain key advantages over a modified Caravan for someone in a wheelchair (curbside loading, not an extra 1000 pounds tacked onto an already marginal drivetrain). It was a decent idea that was likely doomed once NYC passed over it as the next Taxi.

      • 0 avatar
        MLS

        What’s marginal about the Grand Caravan’s 283-hp 3.6L V6 and six-speed transaxle, which together achieve 17/25 mpg?

        • 0 avatar
          mkirk

          It’s legendary reliability. Look, I like the Grand Caravan as much as anyone for hauling the family around but If I am running a Taxi company and paying my mechanics I would much rather have them working on a RWD layout as that simplifies tasks. Plus for the abuse of this sort of vehicle I like BOF as does an overwhelming majority of fleet managers who aren’t forced to buy a certain vehicle by regulation and now lament the loss of the Panthers

          • 0 avatar
            mkirk

            Znd again, if I am in a wheelchair I would rather load from the side than the rear (in the street) This is a dedicated platform for loading wheelchairs, not just a tacked on ramp and lift like the caravans and I seriously doubt they see 17/25 by the time you bolt all the ramps and lifts on them.

    • 0 avatar
      Chicago Dude

      It would be interesting to know what conservative talk radio says about this one, since VPG was a conservative-backed company taking DOE loans. T Boone Pickens was their largest private investor, and we all know how much he loves Obama. Praises him every chance he gets.

      • 0 avatar
        corntrollio

        So was Solyndra! One of the biggest backers of Solyndra was the Walton family. And, of course, it was conditionally approved by the Bush administration, but you’d think Obama rubber stamped it himself with the idiocy some people spout.

      • 0 avatar
        Advance_92

        The same people that swindled Oklahoma State with Pickens’ (unwitting) help tried the same thing at my school and were laughed out the door by the head of Planned Giving. Not even wealthy people can spot the best deal every time.

  • avatar
    jpolicke

    So they stuck a Ford V8 into a London taxi chassis and built an ugly body around it. Could someone please point out where the “advanced technology” comes into play?

  • avatar
    cargogh

    I see several of these in Louisville. Always reminds me of an Element on roids.

  • avatar
    harshciygar

    One taxi company in CT replaced most of its fleets with these CNG-powered taxi vans, and the company owner just loves them.

    While it’s a shame this happened the way they did, unlike Fisker or Coda, VPG has a backlog of orders. I doubt this is the last we have heard of them.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Yes, they have a backlog of 2300 orders.

      Incidentally, VPG has another big advantage — they fit the “Buy American” rules for transit agencies. Chrysler complained that rescinding the “Buy American” waiver would effectively give VPG a monopoly on disabled-friendly vans for transit agencies. Chrysler’s vans are made in Canada, so they don’t fit the rules:

      http://www.autonews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20121217/OEM01/121219894/chrysler-says-startup-van-maker-has-won-a-u-s-monopoly

    • 0 avatar

      Most of the Panther based taxi and airport limpos here are Propane and have been for ages. Cab drivers always rave about it.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    It has some merit as a Taxi in that it uses a tried and true platform and powertrain (one that taxi companies are intimately familiar with) and curbside ramp access for those in wheelchairs. I figure it was passed over in NYC for taxi duty because of that thirsty Ford V8 that offended the Bloomberg greenies. It is seeing duty in other cities though and with an establihed maker like AMG will likely see that role grow.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      The Ford V8 has a lot of grunt, but maybe with a little gearing change in the transmission and a 4.73 final drive, an Ecoboost V6 or I-4 could replace the V8, without lacking any grunt.

      There exists a need for this type of vehicle but the US government is not the VC that needs to back it. That should be done by private capital, not taxpayer bucks.

    • 0 avatar

      It’s an awfully ugly looking vehicle on the road. Here in Palm Beach County, we have a few of them in our taxi fleets, probably thanks to the various Federal mandates.

      There was one parked in the Wellington Green mall as a demo vehicle. I thought it looked akward and clumsy.

      I suppose mandates for vehicles like this are why taxi service is so expensive in this country … even a taxi to the airport is pricey, and the airport is only 15 minutes away from me …

      D

  • avatar
    E46M3_333

    Someone remind me, where’s the clause in the Constitution that grants the Federal Government the power to loan money to companies for commercial endeavors?

    Every day is like watching Atlas Shrugged play out in real life.

    • 0 avatar
      highdesertcat

      That’s the way it is in the new America, especially with a president and administration that espouses and advocates big government.

      America always gets what it deserves because we vote for it! Majority rules, and that’s why we do what the majority wants to do, including government funding of all sorts of hare-brained pursuits.

      Those who don’t agree with policy should become the majority by voting in their candidates so that we can do it their way.

      Otherwise, suck it up or find a way not to support these follies by keeping as much of the money you make for yourself, instead of sending it to the government to squander.

      • 0 avatar
        E46M3_333

        Majority rule is two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for dinner.

        The founders were well aware of the potential tyranny of the majority; that’s why they created a Constitution with specifically enumerated powers, and rights that can’t be taken away, even with a majority vote in Congress. I’m not sure what a citizen is supposed to do when both major parties treat the Constitution like a baby treats a diaper.

        • 0 avatar
          highdesertcat

          I understand your point, and your frustration. As an Independent I try to see both sides of the issue and would like to believe that every president and every administration has only the best in mind for America.

          Try as I may, I have not found one single thing that Obama and his administration have done that was good for America, and certainly not for me since I’m not a minority, have paid my way through life all along, and as such don’t qualify for free money, free foodstamps, free phones, free healthcare or any freebie that the majority has voted for, a second time.

    • 0 avatar
      whynot

      Which clause prohibits the federal government from loaning money to companies for commercial endeavors?

      Most of the debate centers around whether the government should do so, not whether they can. This is hardly the first time the federal government has given out loans or loan guarantees to companies for commercial endeavors.

      • 0 avatar

        10th amendment? Just because both parties ignore it doesn’t mean it isn’t written in plain english.

        • 0 avatar
          jpolicke

          Tenth amendment states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Meaning, since there is nothing in the constitution empowering the federal government to invest in any private enterprise, they may not do so. The states are free to do so if they choose.

      • 0 avatar
        highdesertcat

        Unless the government is an integral part of the national industrial effort, like Japan, Germany and many others, government should stay out of giving money to commercial endeavors because these are not loans. Much of the time it is wasted money on endeavors that only cater to a particular sponsor or a specific interest.

        Excellent example: GM. Massive loss to the taxpayers and ecstatic UAW members continuing to live the high-life. Ditto with Chrysler if we include beneficiary Fiat now kept alive by their Chrysler subdivision. Cartwheels of joy!

        When we, the people, give money to Big Oil, we get a lot of cash back from them on a recurring and continuing basis. Much of that windfall is directly applied to these socialist welfare programs the majority of voters favored.

        But when we give money to Solyndra, A123, Fisker, MPV and the like, the foregone conclusion is that we, the people, can kiss that money good bye because they have no chance of succeeding on their own.

        If the freeloaders had to pay taxes and actually work for their money, there would be more resistance to these ill-advised financial ventures and misappropriations.

      • 0 avatar
        mkirk

        That little bit about anything not being enumerated in the document residing with the states or the people AKA the 10th Amendment.

        • 0 avatar
          corntrollio

          Oh yay, we have some Tenthers here. [eye roll] Please see my link to The Onion below if you think the 10th Amendment has any bearing on this issue.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            You are saying that the 10th amendment doesn’t apply to this issue. Here’s the 10th amendment, in case you’ve succeeded in avoiding it thus far:

            “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

            That puts the onus on you. Which enumerated power of the federal government grants them the privileges of patronage?

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Article I Section 8 works fine for me. The Commerce Clause works for a lot of other stuff too.

            It’s only Tenther-types who disagree, but most of them don’t really know much about constitutional jurisprudence anyway.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            Since article 1, section 8 doesn’t actually grant the power to pay off political cronies, which granted power are they making laws to execute by doing so? This time it would be nice if you actually quoted text from the constitution rather than alluding to the latitude granted by various judicial activists. “works for a lot of that stuff” must have made you a hero in your law classes.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            CJinSD, I ran this by my wife’s brother-in-law, the attorney and counselor to all of my wife’s family, and he replied to me that the interpretation that corntrollio gave is the Far Left Liberal Progressive Democrat interpretation of the Constitution and Amendments as an ever-changing guideline for life in these United States.

            Your interpretation, and mine, is that of the more traditional Constitutionalists.

            Again, here we have a prime example of two individuals looking at the same facts and interpreting them differently.

            One thing of note, National Universities like Harvard, Yale, Ivy League, Black and predominantly Liberal Progressive educational institutions advocate the interpretation that corntrollio has presented, very similar to Obama’s interpretation of law.

            Both sides hold very strong opinions and beliefs that they adhere to. That’s why it often takes the SCOTUS to sort things out.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Don’t start with the judicial activist non-sense. Strict constitutionalists can easily be considered judicial activists by trying to put strict intent into the constitution.

            Judicial activism is just something people who can’t argue things based on facts and logic say when “that guy disagrees with my interpretation.” Saying something is activist or pacifist does not help us determine what good law is.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            “he replied to me that the interpretation that corntrollio gave is the Far Left Liberal Progressive Democrat interpretation of the Constitution and Amendments as an ever-changing guideline for life in these United States.”

            This is absolute nonsense. There’s nothing far left liberal about this, and the interpretation of Article I, Section 8 and the Commerce Clause has been the case for a very long time with both conservative-dominant courts and liberal-dominant ones.

            This is the problem when partisan folks try to argue everything based on partisanism, rather than trying to argue based on the merits.

            Contrary to popular belief, judges can’t completely make things up. They do respect the principle of stare decisis and do look to existing laws to determine decisions. The whole concept of “legislating from the bench” is such a joke, and really an ideological rant, not a true argument.

          • 0 avatar
            mkirk

            I’m sorry, I am not a Constitutional scholar. I am more on the supporting and defending end of the document rather than the interpreting end of it. This is the last time I discuss anything political on this site…I am only commenting on Brown Diesel Wagons from here on out. I will say I would think supporting a constitutional debate with a link to The Onion is akin to me backing up performance numbers on brown diesel wagons with Wikipedia references. Anyway, I have my opinions, you have yours…no reason to go to name calling.

          • 0 avatar
            highdesertcat

            mkirk, I wouldn’t worry about this too much. Corny knows everything about any and all subjects and will read us the riot act on every single one.

            When he presumed to debate VA disability with me I realized that everything he knew could be summed up in 25 words or less.

            Don’t feed the troll. The name says it all.

          • 0 avatar
            CJinSD

            “Don’t start with the judicial activist non-sense. Strict constitutionalists can easily be considered judicial activists by trying to put strict intent into the constitution.”

            Calling strict interpretation of a legal document activism is like call molestation good parenting. You’re willing to say anything, leading to your words meaning nothing. I’m not sure why you didn’t randomly choose text from the constitution and just claim that it supported what it absolutely does not instead of just announcing your flare for the absurd. I guess that one shouldn’t look for logic from someone that defends judicial activism. They can’t coexist. The idea that the government can do anything and everything is a legitimate interpretation of the commerce clause begs the question of why the founding fathers bothered with laying out defined powers of the federal government, doesn’t it? Do you think?

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            Let me point out that there are fewer strict constructionists on the Supreme Court than not, so we can have a healthy discussion on who the judicial activist really is. That’s why judicial activism as a concept is meaningless — it’s just a term people use to describe people they disagree with. It furthermore does not tell us what good law is.

            As for the founding fathers, they had a variety of different opinions, and they had to compromise politically to agree on one document. The fact that it had different interpretations by different people is not in doubt.

            For example, that’s why you had The Federalist Papers (who didn’t think we needed the Bill of Rights at all), and you also had the Anti-Federalist Papers (who did), and ultimately the latter won out on the Bill of Rights. That’s why we have a compromise between how the Senate and the House work — it’s not that we think it’s perfect and that’s how all governments should work — it’s what was politically feasible at the time.

            Furthermore, the constitution has some guidelines, but there are plenty of cases where it ducks important questions or ignores fundamental issues that are required for a government to function. Those, are of course, left for a government to implement, and part of the reason they aren’t written into the document was that the founding fathers knew there would be political disagreements on those issues.

            Everyone except for constitutional law professors (who take their field way too seriously) thinks that constitutional law as we know it is sort of a joke. It is far too results-driven, rather than principles-driven, mostly because the principles aren’t actually that interesting or complex.

            That’s why I tend to be confused by document-worshippers who don’t understand that the constitution merely represents one political compromise that occurred during a particular period of time — it has always been intended to allow some flexibility for implementation. No one who played any part in drafting it likely ever thought it was perfect.

          • 0 avatar
            corntrollio

            “When he presumed to debate VA disability with me I realized that everything he knew could be summed up in 25 words or less.”

            I believe the extent to which I “debated” VA disability with you was:
            1) pointing out that you get lifetime federal benefits from being a federal employee, so you should be careful about crapping on people who get federal benefits
            2) pointing out that I knew people on VA disability, and their “disability” was generally a joke because many of them still did physically-oriented labor that not all “able-bodied” people could do

            I certainly never professed to know any details about the system, as you claim. Some of this was in a thread where you were lying about how much your daughter’s taxes went up, or willfully ignorant of it, one or the other.

    • 0 avatar
      corntrollio

      Why don’t you remind us, since you’re such a constitutional expert?

      http://www.theonion.com/articles/area-man-passionate-defender-of-what-he-imagines-c,2849/

  • avatar
    AMC_CJ

    Saw one of these in parking lot outside of Worcester MA last month. Never seen one before, couldn’t figure out what it was, but it was in a handicap parking spot so figured it had to be something special.

    Looked a bit fugly in person, and kind of cheap.

  • avatar
    Rental Man

    I’m sorry they are gone and hope that not for long. If you ever see a cut up minivan on the lift you would understand. I never see an older tapede together minivan rolling around. It was ugly. Yes. Looked a bit better with Alloys in the NY show with some sales staff riding wheelchairs. It was the 1st generation. If it would make it to a 2nd i’m sure it would look better. Also been told contractors picked some up because of the ramp. Zero confirmation on that.

    • 0 avatar
      FAHRVERGNUGEN

      I can confirm that some contractors DID by the MV-1, though even with the 1,200 lb ramp and a truly flat floor it wasn’t designed for commercial use.
      But it’s hard to say whether the contractors use them for business purposes. They might have had a child in a wheelchair, and registered it to the company.
      VPG was also designing a parcel delivery version without the rear seat, having shelves instead. Even copier companies were looking at the potential ease of rolling their units up the ramps.

  • avatar
    FAHRVERGNUGEN

    I had the pleasure of working for VPG for the last seven years. What started out as a great plan to build a unique vehicle for folks with needs by a bunch of industry veterans and visionaries slowly wound down to a crawl. They had a good and growing dealer network, and cities like Hartford and Chicago embraced them, particularly with the CNG option.
    I was especially intrigued by the plans to switch to a Ford-sourced Ecoboost V6 with a modern transmission; remember, the original idea was to outfit fleet operators with a known (and relatively bullet-proof) drivetrain from the Crown Vic.
    What killed the car was a) a lack of VC to complete the final funding and b) NYC’s desire to give a large contract to Nissan, even though Nissan never built a working model with the rear end cut out for the required wheelchair lift.
    The decision was made to go with an untested and potentially VERY unsafe modification (cutting out the rear CRUMPLE ZONE), which could transport ONE wheelchair occupant and NO ONE ELSE – God forbid a manual chair with a friend to push should want to travel together. And rear-entry requires going into the street to load.
    PLUS, Nissan’s factory is in Mehico, while AM General is in Indiana, US of A.
    NYC gave an “allowance” to Nissan to ultimately build a ramp-equipped vehicle. If their complaint with the MV-1 was mileage – even though CNG burns clean – they could have granted an “allowance” for VPG to finish testing of the V6 and 6-speed.
    Maybe new owners can bring new life to a very unique vehicle, and maintain the Buy America approval.

    • 0 avatar
      thelaine

      @FAHRVERGNUGEN

      Fahrv, why do you think Nissan got the contract? Better price or shenanigans?

      • 0 avatar
        FAHRVERGNUGEN

        I don’t truly know the answer. Objectively, that is. I have my suspicions. No matter what, Mayor Mike wanted to leave yet another stamp on the city. Unfortunately his stamp was like a boot mark on the flag; his to make, yet somewhat wrong.

    • 0 avatar
      jco

      yeah I was going to say.. judging by how many of these suddenly appeared in Chicago, I thought this thing was a success.

      Chicago’s cab seemed to be scion xB’s, panthers that haven’t been completely driven into the ground yet, some Prius, and these things..

    • 0 avatar
      mkirk

      Wasn’t there a lawsuit on the NYC thing involving the American’s with Disabilities Act? I guess that didn’t go favorably. Anyway, some of the Nissan’s will be equipped for wheelchairs, but as I stated earlier, they load from the rear. Also, had they gone with this the entire fleet would have been wheelchair accessible (like London). Not like this would be the first time the NYC taxi fleet was mainly purpose built vehicles (Checker Marathon).

  • avatar
    CelticPete

    I don’t understand this millenial voters who vote for big government and huge expenditures. I will admit some of the modern DMVs aren’t too bad. But why do they think government spending is an efficent way to solve problems? What’s wrong with private VCs?

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean

      Again, this isn’t gummint spending such as pork-barreling items onto bills IOT support a special interest lobbyist. This is a LOAN that a business has to apply for and is expected to pay back. The loan comes with strings to verify that the money isn’t being spent on your girlfriend in Argentina, but on the business idea you guaranteed the loan upon. The company remains private.

  • avatar
    Chocolatedeath

    Ironic or not I had the pleasure of sitting in one of these this morning. Funny after not knowing what the hell it was until after the post about taxi’s the other day. I was getting my morning joe and saw the driver (that I actually knew) from another Social Work job I had in the past. He let me sit in it and showed me around it. I have an old phone so I didnt get to take pics. It seems to be that it serves its purpose very well. Depending on the configuration you can have as many as two wheel chairs and two people or one wheel chair and three people. I see the need and hope that who ever buys them out makes some adjustments for fuel economy. Maybe Penske will look into it, he seems to think different. Or better yet Maximum Bob..lol LT1 engine anyone?

  • avatar
    Hummer

    I wonder why there was a backlog, this particular building has the ability and capacity to produce 60,000 vehicles a year. Half of the building houses the system for a previous vehicle, but it still makes no sense that they couldn’t make enough.

    • 0 avatar
      FAHRVERGNUGEN

      The backlog only existed because the line was on “slowdown” since late last year, to ostensibly allow for retooling for the 2013 year. Also gave an opportunity to move the inventory of completed vehicles.
      Building 60,000 cars a year was a good goal. Just need buyers for 62,000 vehicles. What was needed was VC to get the plant running again and help book the $98,900,000 of gross sales for the 2,300 units in pre-order.

      • 0 avatar
        Hummer

        The facility the vehicle was built in wasn’t designed for the MV1, it was designed for the H2.

        I have no idea the targeted amount of vehicles they wanted to produce was.

        The problem is however, AM General still has everything from the H2 assembly in half of the building just setting, it was never dismantled but rather moved, that means that the plant had the ability for possible 20-35k vehicles.
        But on that same note, for a vehicle that sells so few vehicles why would they need to retool, as it had only been open maybe 2 years, that in itself is bad bussiness practice. Maybe they needed to correct issues, but to retool? Seems like someone is trying to buy time.

        • 0 avatar
          mkirk

          But the MV1 was specifically designed to use a bunch of the H2′s tooling if I remember. This thing intrigued me and I had been rooting for it.

          • 0 avatar
            Hummer

            Hmm, that’s pretty cool, I never knew that, it would make financial sense though, the H2 had just been retooled 2 years prior to it’s demise, and GM was putting zilch into its marketing, even though it’s gas mileage has improved with the new setup to around 15-16(I’ve heard on highways some have gotten consistent 18 or so(both of mine are prior new style)) The interior on the new one also got an extreme upgrade, went from low quality to high quality with the switch.
            So those tools were fresh

            Wasn’t cheap, like I said that seems like a perfect oppurtunity for someone to have AMG build an automobile.

            Just a side note I always found funny, the same facility was given the award for most “environmentally friendly” manufactoring plant in the WORLD.

          • 0 avatar
            FAHRVERGNUGEN

            Hummer and mkirk – the MV-1 was certainly being built on the old H2 line. But if you can believe it, the body of the MV-1 was actually taller than the H2, which necessitated a LOT of changes to the clearance on the line. All because the floor of the MV-1 is so much lower than the H2, which had much more ground clearance.
            It’s a fascinating plant to see in operation. Clean, colorful, with bodies suspended just like a cool ride at an amusement park. Lets hope someone has the $$$$ to push the big start button again.

  • avatar
    mkirk

    And is it just me, or does the front end look like a Ridgeline?

  • avatar
    bill mcgee

    I’m glad to read all this because I’ve seen a number of these in Houston, and actually walked around them trying to find some clue as to who made it. I thought it looked like more of a bloated Honda Pilot . I didn’t find it all that unattractive in the flesh and it’s more SUV like than a van.


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