Entering the exhibit at the 22nd annual National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association conference in Daytona Beach, Fla., this year, I pause. The dazzling chrome and gleaming colors of all the new vehicles and equipment on display gives me the same thrill of anticipation as I used to get entering auto shows in my walkie days. But it also reminds me how far the industry has come since I bought my first adapted van 35 years ago.
Back then my choices boiled down to which full-size van I wanted, whether to choose a platform or swing-out lift and what local mom and pop converter to use. Now I can choose from an array of minivans, full-size vans, pickup trucks, SUVs and specialty vehicles, made accessible by equipment manufacturers and second stage manufacturers and sold and serviced by local dealers. And what better place could there be to view them than the annual meeting of mobility dealers (over 600 strong) and the manufacturers who supply them?
Here’s some of what’s new and different in vehicles.
All-Terrain Conversions’ bright red Silverado extended cab pickup catches my attention with its open, top-hinged door assembly, which flips up like a modified Mercedes gull wing, leaving plenty of space for access and giving wheelers overhead protection from rain, snow or sun as they enter or exit the truck. Its patent-pending hydraulic lift system, quiet operation and speed — a wheeler can be in or out of the vehicle in 25 seconds — is equally impressive.
Founded in March 2012, the company offers conversions — wheelchair driver or passenger side — for GM trucks and SUVs. Sales are through authorized dealers only, a network that grows daily according to ATC president, Trent Bradburn, an industry veteran, who says, “The response has been overwhelming.”