At first glance the new MV-1 from the Vehicle Production Group looks like something designed and built by committee in the former Soviet Union. Nearly as large as a minivan and basically a box on wheels, its determinedly utilitarian lines possess the quirky, ugly-duckling charm of a London cab. Which makes sense for a vehicle that was originally previewed in 2007 as the Standard Taxi. That initial design was squared off and clunky, kind of like a giant Lego car. But the Standard wasn’t designed to win any beauty contests. It was purpose-built to be the best taxi possible.
Wide doors, a low step, flat floor and a deployable wheelchair ramp made it easy to get in and out of and — to VPG’s credit — universally accessible. Rugged construction and reliable running gear made it dependable. A large trunk provided for ample storage. And its roomy interior had enough space to seat a driver plus three adults (four with an optional jump seat) and a wheelchair rider — facing forward in the shotgun position — next to the driver.
As a C6 quad who has suffered the inconveniences, delays, and expense of getting around at most travel destinations, the thought of fleets of wheelchair accessible taxis roaming the streets of America makes me want to shout hallelujah. Just imagine being able to hail a taxi, any taxi, and get in — like everybody else.
Manufacturing and selling taxicabs that can deliver universal access like that is a daunting goal. But Ford’s discontinuance of its Crown Victoria, a boat of a car and the favored vehicle of most cab companies, made room for a new player in the market — lots of room. VPG could have concentrated on that market alone, but as venture capitalist Fred Drasner, the chairman and founder of the company, is fond of saying, ?“We are not a one-note car company.”
Why the inclusion of wheelchair accessibility in its plans? Dave Schembri, VPG’s CEO, who knows all-too-well how vital accessible transportation can be from his own wheelchair-using sister’s experiences, says, “There was a need for an accessible vehicle and there’s a void in the market.”
Adds Drasner, “We decided we can do well by doing good.”
Buoniconti Gets Number One
From the beginning, VPG’s goal was to serve a number of markets, including the taxicab, paratransit and commercial fleet industries, as well as the personal mobility market. It didn’t hurt that Drasner knew Marc Buoniconti from Miami Project fundraisers, too.
Buoniconti, who heads up the Project as well as its fundraising arm, the Buoniconti Fund, and who has helped raise over $300 million for spinal cord research since the football accident that left him a C3-4 quad 25 years ago, became an early advisor and support