Chrysler claims a new ruling gives its rival Vehicle Production Group LLC on selling wheelchair-accessible minivans in the U.S. Bloomberg reports that a regulatory decision by the Federal Transit Administration requires companies that provide transit services to the disabled to use a the MV-1 van made by VPG, unless they can provide a compelling reason to use another van. Chrysler previously dominated the market; its Town & Country and Dodge Grand Caravan were routinely modified by aftermarket companies to accept wheelchairs.
The FTA's decision reinstates a "Buy American" rule that requires vehicles used by federally-funded transit agencies be assembled on U.S. soil. The rule was temporarily waived in 2010 because no wheelchair-accessible minivans were built on U.S. soil -- the Chrysler vans are assembled in Ontario, Canada, for instance. However, VPG opened a production facility in Mishawaka, Indiana, so the FTA reversed the rule. That means that, going forward, the VPG MV-1 is the only wheelchair-transit van that federally funded agencies can legally purchase.
VPG told Bloomberg that the decision is "great news for us," as the company will now be the primary provider of vehicles to transit agencies for the disabled. Chrysler, meanwhile, feels the ruling locks the automaker out of such contracts, and reportedly told the FTA its decision gave VPG a "monopoly" on that business.
In March 2011, VPG won a $50 million loan from the U.S. Energy Department. About 25 percent of all VPG MV-1 vans will be powered by natural gas. The company has already started repaying its federal loan, and expects to sell about 6000 vehicles in 2013.