With spring arriving in most of the northern hemisphere, people are putting away their winter gear and looking forward to getting outdoors and traveling to areas that might have been covered in snow a short time before. Many people also shop for new vehicles or make improvements to those they own at this time of year, but shopping for an accessible vehicle has changed over the last few years. Mergers and consolidations seem to be the trend when it comes to mobility equipment. Many of the companies that sold or modified vehicles in the past have given up their independent status and now share a corporate name and identity with their peers across the country.
Unfortunately, some smaller independent companies have also gone out of business, forcing some consumers to travel farther in order to find a selection of models that they may have been able to find locally in the past. Additionally, some popular models — like the full-sized Ford Econoline vans that were approved for drop-floor conversions, and the Honda Element, with doors that worked great for anyone who wanted to transfer into the driver’s seat and then load a wheelchair behind that seat — have been discontinued.
Despite that, the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association points out it has more than 600 members in the United States and Canada, and that manufacturers continue to improve the safety and convenience of accessible vehicles and accessories that have been around for years. In 2018, they are also introducing accessibility in some new vehicles that have not previously been modified.
Larger lift-equipped vans now available include the Dodge Promaster and the Mercedes-Benz Sprinter. Several modification companies are advertising their efforts to create more interior room in minivans, which are slightly smaller but will accommodate power wheelchairs. There are also several vehicles on the market that are described as “caregiver” vehicles because they are accessed by manual ramps or may not accommodate drivers who want to remain seated in a wheelchair to drive.
BraunAbility recently introduced two new vehicles: the Toyota XL van and the MXV Ford Explorer SUV with “Tilt N’Go” seating. The Tilt N’Go feature allows either front seat to be tilted forward, which expands the maneuvering space needed for positioning a power wheelchair or other mobility device in any location in the vehicle. The Toyota XL extends the van’s length by 6 inches to provide more wheelchair maneuvering space and room for additional passengers in the rear seat. BraunAbility is also offering a Chrysler Pacifica van, pointing out that it has features and interior space that will accommodate larger wheelchairs; unlike some other caregiver vehicles, it also has a power ramp available.
Vantage Mobility International launched a new accessible Honda Pilot SUV this spring. The VMI Honda Pilot Northstar E has a manual in-floor ramp, removable front passenger seat and ample storage space according to the manufacturer.
Those seeking a smaller vehicle have some options in the resale market as well. Freedom Motors is advertising the availability of a Fiat 500L “Wheelchair Accessible Car” equipped with a rear ramp. Despite the small size, the 30-inch-wide ramp and 53 inches of headroom should accommodate a variety of mobility devices and their passengers. Freedom Motors also sells a Kia Soul and Kia Sorrento that are equipped with rear ramps.
There are still lift-equipped pickup trucks and a variety of SUVs available for those who are looking for a ride with more ground clearance or hauling capacity. All Terrain Conversions continues to focus on accommodating larger wheelchairs than previously possible with their unique lift design. A larger lift pan allows the vehicle to handle heavier equipment, and serves as the means for securing the wheelchair while driving.
The front of the ATC lift swings farther away from the vehicle when extended to the ground, which prevents the wheelchair from rubbing against the vehicle or tires while entering or leaving the lift. The unique gull-wing door also provides protection from the weather while loading or unloading, and has been modified to close by the force of gravity to remove the threat of crushing as the door closes.
ATC advertises that it modifies full-size trucks and SUVs as well as midsize SUV conversions such as the Traverse, Acadia and Enclave. The company will also modify a customer’s used vehicle, equipping it with modifications that allow the company to offer a three-year, 36,000 mile warranty. AMS Vans also modifies customer’s vans. If someone owns a vehicle that they love, but needs it to be accessible, AMS offers a means to improve it without the cost of a new vehicle.
The availability of so many different types of vehicles and features can be confusing, so take advantage of professionals in the mobility equipment industry who are qualified to evaluate customers’ needs and recommend solutions that work best.
Trends to Watch
Accessible vehicles are part of the move to put more environmentally-friendly vehicles on our highways: Revability is now manufacturing the first hybrid-electric Chrysler Pacifica wheelchair van, equipped with a rear ramp and four-wheel drive.
Another healthy trend that has had an impact on at least one company is the need for transit agencies and taxi fleet operators to improve the number of accessible vehicles available to their customers. Sales of the Mobility Ventures MV-1 increased 35 percent in 2016; these vehicles have been purchased in bulk by New York City and Chicago paratransit providers, as well as taxi or rideshare companies in those cities and others that want to avoid violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act or related state laws. Unfortunately, the company has been sold and the MV-1 is not being manufactured at this time.
People who drive sedans with hand controls but transfer onto the original manufacturer’s driver’s seat to do so are also encountering problems because of a requirement that all new vehicles be outfitted with knee bolster air bags located beneath the steering wheel in front of the knees; that knee bag positioning blocks much of the space required for routing of the rods that are part of several types of manual hand controls. This feature has limited the selection of vehicles for hand control users and will likely have a negative impact on the availability of rental vehicles that will accommodate the installation of hand controls for customers who request them (see Everyday Advocacy). Look for the next Motorvation column to cover hand controls and other vehicle “peripherals” in greater detail.
• All Terrain Conversions, atconversions.com
• AMS Vans, amsvans.com/wheelchair-van-conversions
• BraunAbility, braunability.com
• Freedom Motors USA, freedommotors.com
• Mobility Ventures MV-1, mv-1.us
• NMEDA, nmeda.com
• Revability, revability.com
• Vantage Mobility International, vantagemobility.com