The Department of Energy (DOE) has offered a nearly $50 million conditional loan commitment to The Vehicle Production Group LLC (VPG) to support the development of the six passenger MV-1, a wheelchair-accessible vehicle that will run on compressed natural gas (CNG), Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Tuesday.

VPG estimates that the project will produce approximately 22,650 vehicles annually when at full capacity. The vehicles will be produced at a Mishawaka, IN, AM General Plant. Between production, part suppliers, sales and marketing, the project is expected to create more than 900 jobs, Chu said.

The project will also promote the use of alternative fuels and help the United States maintain its competitive edge in the automotive industry, according to Chu. "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," he said.

Miami-based VPG said the MV-1, which features a deployable access ramp with a 1,200-pound weight capacity, is the only light-duty vehicle that meets or exceeds the guidelines of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

General Motors last month unveiled what it called the industry's only fully integrated CNG cargo van as the lead vehicle in what it hopes will be a parade of options for fleet operators seeking to lower their carbon footprint (see Daily GPI, Oct. 21).

Chesapeake Energy Corp. Aubrey McClendon has said that finding a way to use natural gas as a mainstream transportation fuel is the "holy grail" for the industry (see Daily GPI, Nov. 4). An economic method to convert gas to liquids, which would allow all types of vehicles to use CNG, could be developed by the middle of the decade, according to McClendon.

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