Which Auto Startup Has Built 2,500 Cars Over The Last Year?

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MV-1 Wheelchair-Accessible Mobility Vehicle

MV-1 Wheelchair-Accessible Mobility Vehicle

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Tesla Motors gets a huge amount of media attention, and Fisker Automotive isn't far behind.

Other automotive startups, including Coda Automotive and tiny Wheego Electric Cars, are less well known.

But can you name the startup automaker that's built 2,500 cars since last September?

Hint: It's none of the above.

The company is called Vehicle Production Group LLC, and it builds the ungainly but utterly practical MV-1, the only private car sold in the U.S. designed from scratch to be wheelchair accessible.

Here's the kicker: Since production began in September 2011, VPG has built more than 2,500 MV-1s.

That's more cars than Tesla built over the same period, and very probably more than Fisker as well (though that company is likely now above 2,000 cars built).

And it's absolutely more cars than either Coda or Wheego has built.

Vehicle Production Group hit the news yesterday, saying it would relocate its headquarters from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Allen Park, Michigan.

It already has 90 percent of its employees, or about 150 people, located outside Florida. The MV-1 is assembled under contract by AM General in a former Hummer assembly plant in Mishawaka, Indiana.

It already has 90 percent of its employees, or about 150 people, located there, in a former Hummer assembly plant owned by AM General.

The company's six-passenger MV-1 can run on gasoline or natural-gas, which gives it an alternative-fuel offering. About 75 percent of the 2,500 cars built so far use a 4.6-liter gasoline V-8 engine; the rest are fueled on natural gas.

Company CEO John Walsh hopes to even the split to 50-50 next year, with a goal of building and selling 6,000 to 8,000 MV-1s.

To be fair, if Tesla manages to build 2,500 to 3,000 more vehicles by the end of the year--and up to 15,000 next year--it will pass VPG in its annual production sometime during 2013.

Right now, though, VPG appears to be slightly ahead of Tesla in the production volume race.

But VPG does have one thing in common with Tesla and Fisker: It received a low-interest loan from the U.S. Department of Energy's advanced-technology vehicle manufacturing program.

Vehicle Production was granted a loan $50 million in February 2011, the last one approved to date under the program--which still has the bulk of its $25 billion in funds unallocated.

In June 2009, the DoE approved $465 million in loans for Tesla Motors [NSDQ:TSLA], and it followed with $529 million for Fisker that September.

Disbursement of the Fisker loan funds was frozen 18 months ago after that company repeatedly missed deadlines and milestones in its loan agreement.

VPG's wheelchair accessible MV-1 car is sold through 84 dealers, and the company hopes to raise that total to 150.


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