Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The First Factory Built Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle

Such an exciting new concept! A vehicle designed and built by manufacturers to be wheelchair accessible. Not a vehicle which is converted for use by wheelchair users, but rather designed from the start for the 3 million wheelchair users across the USA. I wrote to the Miami, Florida based Vehicle Production Group LLC (VPG) and asked the co-founder and executive VP of Business Development, Marc Klein some questions about the new MV-1 (a clever name which stands for "First Mobility Vehicle") wheelchair accessible vehicle and learned much more. But first, have a look at this introductory video about the MV-1 wheelchair accessible vehicle:

The video above implies that unlike the MV-1 the conversion process that a typical mini-van goes through to become wheelchair accessible may compromise safety, comfort, durability and performance. So I asked Klein how the MV-1 is better than a conversion in those regards.

Klein said, "If you take a shoe that was designed for a particular purpose, like a hiking boot, and compare it to shoe that was not designed for the rigors of hiking, I think you will agree that you have two very different products. If you then dismantle the second shoe and attempt to make it into a hiking boot, in my opinion the second shoe will generally be less safe, comfortable, and durable than the first shoe when used in hiking activity." Klein also pointed to the MV-1's "body-on-frame vehicle architecture". That meant nothing to me, so I asked for more details.

Klein said "The Ford Crown Victoria and Lincoln Town Car utilize body-on-frame design and both are prevalent across the United States in fleet usage and are know for their durability. A minivan commonly has a "unibody" frame which is generally considered to be less durable than a body-on-frame design." Klein also directed me to a wikipedia article which outlines advatanges and disadvantages of body-on-frame design compared to the more common unibody design.

When I asked about costs and gas milage Klein responded "Estimated MSRP is approximately $40,000 USD. Estimated MPG is approximately 15 MPG. We are still in the engine calibration process, so final numbers are not yet available."

Do not make the mistake that I did to assume that wheelchair accessible means that this vehicle is adapted. This is a vehicle which will give wheelchair easy access and a comfortable ride, but only as passengers. If a wheelchair user wants to drive this vehicle, further modifications will be necessary. Klein confirmed this by saying "VPG will not be installing hand controls in the MV-1. Hand controls can be added after purchase like any other vehicle since the MV-1 utilizes common steering mechanisms that are readily available in the marketplace."

Perhaps someday an innovative manufacturer will design an adapted vehicle that a wheelchair user can drive without after-market modifications. But until that time comes, the MV-1 is an exciting first step.

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