— With numbers dwindling to just 20 workers during the past four years, automotive supplier facility Android Industries is ready to hire again.
The mechanical engineering plant at 4444 W. Maple Ave., is partnering with U.S.-based Vehicle Production Group and European company Henkel to produce the MV-1 accessibility van.
An open house was held Dec. 8 with tours and an animated example of the cart system that Android employs to make modules for vehicles. In the past year, Android was forced to lay off workers when Flint Truck Assembly looked inward to supply parts for a line of commercial trucks.
“It seems like it’s been a long time coming,” Chuck Evans, corporate vice president of Henkel said of the three years it took to bring the companies together. “We see this as just a beginning.”
Android Industries will begin hiring in March. Parts of the MV-1 construction, including the chassis and engine cradle, will be handled at Android.
“This is the first vehicle ever designed for the mixed market of the physically disabled,” said Android founder Richard Niazy who called the van a “paratransit vehicle.”
Niazy said the Flint location was “well-suited” for the work. The vehicle will also be painted using an immersion process and powder coated at the plant.
Henkel has invested in a 14-stage assembly line to coat the bodies of the automobiles in paint. The machinery built for the dip process is billed as one of the largest in the world, featuring 20,000 gallon tanks.
Henkel’s “Aquence” line of adhesives will be used and boast environmentally sustainable coatings and lower energy consumption.
“The work that they’re doing to bring jobs to us is commendable,” Flint Mayor Dayne Walling said of the partnership. “We all know that we face tough times but these investments are what is going to change our community.”
Walling said the impending manufacturing will “improve the economic environment,” pointing out that Android Industries is on a land-use contract with Flint and Flint Township.
The MV-1 will become available sometime in the first half of 2011. The van was named on the presumption that it is the first mobility vehicle. The Serra Automotive Group is the only dealership in Michigan slated to sell the MV-1.
“We have a vehicle here that enhances the lives of those confined to wheelchairs,” said Dave Schembri, CEO of the Vehicle Production Group. He explained that any other wheelchairaccessible car has to be an aftermarket conversion and is not initially manufactured in accordance with the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The MV-1 was tested by both quadriplegics and paraplegics in more than 52 focus groups in varying cities.
“We have the only ADA compliant vehicle,” Schembri said.
The MV-1 is unique in that the van’s passenger space is reserved for a wheelchair, rather than the back of the vehicle. The MV-1 has a Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) fueling system.
“If every vehicle ran on CNG, we’d have no dependence on foreign oil,” Schembri said.
Android isn’t sure exactly how many jobs will be brought to the Flint area.
“The more, the merrier,” said Niazy. “Flint has been hard hit. The automotive business is tough on good days. But we’re trying to fill this facility with UAW jobs.”
Android already manufactures parts for steering columns, dashboards, and wheels and tires. Evans says that the plant is outfitted to handle production of truck parts in the future.
“If you talk to us a year from now, we’ll be talking about a multitude of opportunities right here in Flint.”