The Vehicle Production Group LLC received a $50 million conditional loan from the U.S. Department of Energy to build a new vehicle specifically designed for wheelchair users.
The MV-1 is being designed for individual wheelchair users and fleets. It will use a Ford 4.6-liter V-8 engine and run on either gasoline or compressed natural gas.
VPG, a unit of private equity firm Perseus LLC and based in Miami, Fla., is headed by auto industry veteran David Schembri, who was previously president of Smart USA.
“With this conditional commitment, the Department of Energy has demonstrated its confidence in our program and the impact that it will have in transforming a significant portion of U.S. light duty fleets to clean-burning, natural gas vehicles,” Schembri said in a statement on Monday.
The Energy Department, citing the company's confidential business plan, did not disclose requirements for the loan. But a spokesman said such loans can require additional capital be raised by recipients, formal supply contracts with vendors or customers, or other requirements.
VPG said it plans to build more than 24,000 vehicles a year under contract with AM General in Mishawaka, Ind. Production of the MV-1 is scheduled to begin late in the first quarter of 2011.
The company said more than 900 workers will be involved in the project. The MV-1 will have more than 70 percent domestic content.
The MV-1 features a deployable access ramp with a 1,200-pound weight capacity and has a 36-inch entryway. It can accommodate up to six occupants with an optional jump seat, including one or two wheelchair passengers and the driver.
"This project represents an investment in innovation that will create new jobs, promote the use of alternative fuels, and help our nation maintain its competitive edge in the automotive industry," U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.
"It is part of a broad effort to reclaim America's leadership in auto manufacturing - ensuring that our workers are producing the best, most innovative, most efficient vehicles in the world."
The Department of Energy's loan program office oversees the Advanced Technology Vehicles Manufacturing loan program that has provided more than $8 billion in loans to manufacturers including Ford Motor Co., Fisker Automotive, Nissan North America and Tesla Motors Inc.