ABC News’ Chris Bury reports:
Marc Buoniconti, paralyzed in a freak football accident 16 years ago, said he felt like a “proud parent,” when the first mass-produced car built for wheelchairs users rolled off the line this week at a Mishawaka, Ind. factory that once made H2 Hummers.
In 1985, Buoniconti, the son of former Miami Dolphins star Nick Buoniconti, suffered a severe spinal cord injury playing for South Carolina’s military institution, the Citadel.
Since then, he has raised money for spinal injury research and over the last few years, helped design a new car for wheelchair users.
This week, he received the first MV-1, made for Miami-based Vehicle Production Group (VPG) by AM General, which also builds military Hummers at its Indiana plant.
Until now, disabled Americans who use wheelchairs had to rely on public transportation or expensive vehicle conversions.
“The problem with conversions,” Buoniconti told ABC News. It “is basically they’re an afterthought.”
The new MV-1, which starts at $39,950, has a 3-foot-high door that is wide enough to allow a person in a wheelchair to use a built-in ramp to get in alone.
A key selling point for disabled users, Buoniconti believes, is safety– considering most spinal cord injuries are suffered in auto accidents.
“It’s a solid chassis, like the Hummer frame, so you can imagine how strong that vehicle is,” he said.
VPG initially plans to build 1,000 cars this year and as many as 30,000 by 2013. It’s offering models powered by gasoline or compressed natural gas.
Buoniconti, president of the Miami Fund to Cure Paralysis, is convinced the disabled community will respond, particularly since wheelchair-accessible conversions can add $15,000 to $25,000 to the price of a car or van.
“Bottom dollar: it’s inherently more expensive to live life with a disability than a normal life. So any time you can buy a vehicle for less, that’s what you’re going to wind up doing,” he said.