Making a vehicle accessible for wheelchair users has never been an easy proposition. Adding an automatic ramp or lift is usually the preferred method, but such an adaptation isn't cheap - typically, the conversion is an aftermarket process that ends up pushing the total cost of the vehicle to $65,000 on average. In the future, though, wheelchair users may be able to get vehicles that will provide them adequate accessibility for a much smaller price tag - closer to $40,000 for a brand new vehicle that requires no special conversions and comes properly outfitted directly from the factory.
Even more surprising is where such an innovative automobile is coming from. AM General, an auto manufacturer that previously contracted with General Motors to make the H2 Hummer for the consumer market, will be spearheading the effort to bring wheelchair-ready vehicles to the general public with its MV-1 (short for Mobility Vehicle). Over 40 dealerships are already carrying the MV-1 across the United States, but by the middle of 2012, that number will likely jump up to at least 60. AM General is producing about 12 MV-1s every day, and their next annual production will probably see 20 units being yielded on a daily basis if sales projections hold up in the months to come.
Fred Drasner, chairman of AM General's parent company, VPG, feels very confident about the MV-1's potential to become a mainstay in the market for many years to come. With 54 million Americans currently disabled and that number continuing to climb as the baby boomer generation grows older, the need for vehicles that accommodate wheelchairs will only get correspondingly larger. The MV-1 was originally conceptualized as a specialized taxi vehicle, but the company felt that it could perform well in the market as a direct-to-consumer product. "We think that, ultimately, is the biggest market," Drasner says.
The MV-1 will sell for $39,950 and has a 3 foot high door 56 inches in width. It features a built-in manual ramp and adequate maneuvering space for four passengers to ride along with the driver and up to three additional non-disabled passengers. A specialized restraint system holds the occupants' wheelchairs securely in place during transit. The MV-1 runs off either regular gasoline or compressed natural gas. It was also built to comply with National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test and safety standards, which most other converted wheelchair-accessible vehicles do not typically meet. Featuring an 8-cylinder engine with 248 horsepower and rear-wheel drive, the MV-1 is also backed by a 5-year, 75,000-mile warranty.
While many users can get by without a specialized vehicle designed to accommodate on-board wheelchair use, the fact remains that some people simply require a vehicle with such a high level of performance to reliably transport themselves and their wheelchair. If the MV-1 succeeds, there is a good possibility that other auto makers may also attempt to break into the market with more cost-efficient models - perhaps even hybrid versions for those seeking better fuel economy or trying to reduce their carbon foot print. Hopefully, the proliferation of specialized factory-direct handicapped-accessible SUVs will spur competition that benefits the end consumer even more, especially as the bulk of our population grows older with every surpassing year.
USM carries a wide selection of manual wheelchairs for your benefit. Our specialists are thoroughly trained in the differences between models and can help you choose the wheelchair that's best for your needs. Call us now at 1 (800) 251-7250!
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