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Detroit’s Big Three? How about Big Four?

It might be premature for that last change, but the Miami-based Vehicle Products Group can claim the first, as it manufactures the dedicated-CNG, Made-in-USA MV-1 taxi-paratransit vehicle via AM General in Mishawaka, Ind.

“Our assembly line is running at 60 vehicles per week and by the fourth quarter we’ll be up to 120 vehicles per week,” says VPG’s new CEO, John Walsh.

Anyone talking passenger OEM NGVs in the U.S. “should start including us immediately,” he says. “It’s not an aftermarket conversion.”

CNG Premium Is $10,500

Approximately 25% of VPG’s output consists of compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles, Walsh says, adding that he expects NGVs to account for half of VPG’s output next year.

VPG’s largest single CNG order, he told F&F, is 96 units for Dallas Area Rapid Transit. Approximately 30 have been delivered, and two more lots should bring the total to 95 over the next two months.

(DART is also buying 123 CNG-fueled, GM 4500-chassis, Arboc-body shuttle buses via Impco Automotive, and expects to take delivery this year of the first 30 of 459 full-size CNG transit buses from NABI, North American Bus Industries.)

Because VPG’s MV-1 is a factory vehicle, the CNG cost premium is relatively low, Walsh says: $10,500, bringing the price of a CNG MV-1 to $50,500. VPG uses Ford-sanctioned BAF-ServoTech software for the vehicle’s 4.6-liter V-8 engine, with Type III CNG fuel cylinders from Worthington-SCI affording a single fill range of about 290 miles. The new Type IVs from 3M are being considered for next year.

The MV-1 meets FTA Buy America standards, too.

VPG has just publicized a partnership for its ADA-compliant (Americans with Disabilities Act) MV-1 with the Pittsburgh area’s Star Transportation Group and Star’s Veterans Taxi Service. A CNG-fueled MV-1 for Star-Veterans will be shown at the National Veteran Small Business Conference in Detroit June 26-29, where Star-Veterans founder and president Bob DeLucia “will talk about his success in deploying MV-1s as part of the Veterans Taxi Service program.”

“We’re proud that the MV-1 is part of this unique program that helps bring our nation’s servicemen and servicewomen into the workforce, allowing those who proudly served their country to continue service to their communities – and, in this case, to their fellow veterans,” VPG chief marketing officer Mike Carney said in a release. “Bob is doing something truly special in Pittsburgh, and we’re bringing him to Detroit in hopes that others will follow his example.”

VPG CEO Walsh says he’s hoping to place 20 and perhaps as many as 50 vehicles with DeLucia’s firm in the next six months.

“We’re the fourth U.S. automaker in America,” Walsh says – and is looking to be one of the Big Four. Capacity in Mishawaka is 70,000 cars per year – “the most capacity in the CNG world.” He notes that there are 150 VPG dealers and 350 qualified Ford stores standing ready to service the CNG-fueled MV-1.

Before being named VPG CEO in March, Walsh was president and CEO of National Bus Sales & Leasing. VPG last month named Steve Barker as executive VP for commercial and retail sales. Earlier in May, Mike Hennessey and Devin Ikenberry were named as government business VPs.

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