Fisker isn’t the only auto startup to struggle after receiving a loan from the Department of Energy’s auto program. Vehicle Production Group, or VPG, which was making natural gas-powered vans for disabled passengers, has shut down and has yet to pay back any of its $50 million loan, according to USA Today.
The CEO of VPG, John Walsh, tells the paper that the company quietly stopped production last October after making 2,500 of its MV-1 vans, and was forced to lay off all of its staff, and shut its offices after running out of funds. The company raised around $400 million from investors including T. Boone Pickens, natural gas distributor Clean Energy Fuel Corp., Perseus, and Three Seasons Capital.
VPG was the last of five companies to receive funds from the Department of Energy’s Advanced Technology Vehicle Manufacturing Program; the company won the conditional loan in November 2010. The other auto loan winners included Nissan, Ford, Tesla and Fisker. Fisker has struggled heavily in recent months, and the DOE seized funds from a reserve account in anticipation that Fisker would default on its first loan payment.
The ATVM program was created in 2007 and funded by Congress in 2008 and offered loans for companies making vehicles in the U.S. that had better mileage or reduced dependency on foreign oil. The ATVM program has now essentially been frozen for a couple years, and the DOE says that despite the fact that it has $16.6 billion remaining in the fund and seven applications pending, it will not award any more loans.
Founded in 2006, VPG had been producing both gas-powered and natural gas-powered versions of a wheel-chair accessible six-passenger van that featured a door that can open 36 inches wide and an interior height of nearly 60 inches. The company sold the van for taxi and company fleets. The base model that runs on gasoline started at $39,000, and the natural gas version came in around $48,000.
The company seemed to be scaling in early 2012, when we covered them, but Walsh tells USA Today that the company needed more money to continue operations and was unable to raise it. The struggles of Fisker, Solyndra and others have made the environment for fund raising for alternative transportation and clean power difficult.
At one point VPG had planned to make 22,000 vans a year, and create 900 jobs.Walsh tells the paper that the company has not declared bankruptcy yet and is in discussions with two potential acquirers.