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Thread: Modified vehicle designs mobilize the disabled

  1. #1

    Modified vehicle designs mobilize the disabled

    Modified vehicle designs mobilize the disabled

    The Detroit News

    WARREN, Mich. -- Michael Davis slides effortlessly out of his wheelchair and onto the custom seat of the Buick LeSabre sedan at the General Motors Technical Center. The car's experimental seat is five inches wider than a standard car's and its edge is closer to the door. Davis nods his head and smiles.

    "I have no feeling of tipping out," says Davis, 32, of Westland, Mich., who uses a wheelchair as a result of a 1989 motorcycle accident. "This seat feels so stable. It gives me extra support in my thighs. It's a reassuring feeling. Good work."

    Automakers are paying more attention to buyers like Davis. As the population ages, the market for vehicles designed for people with disabilities is expected to grow.

    Ford recently created the Mobility Focus, a compact car with hand controls and front seats that swivel for easy access, and is making the same modifications to a Mercury Sable wagon. It has also created a special suit and eyeglasses for designers and engineers that re-create the bodily and visual restrictions that hamper drivers due to age, disease and accidents.

    Other manufacturers from Toyota to Volkswagen are providing financial assistance to buyers who need to make vehicle modifications because of disabilities.

    At GM, the Mobility Center's mission is to improve cars and trucks for all GM buyers, with an increasing focus on aging baby boomers and seniors.

    Escorting Davis is Gary Talbot, 46, GM manager of mobility engineering, who also uses a wheelchair. Talbot was 24 when he fell asleep at the wheel, crashed his car and wound up with a spinal-cord injury.

    Both men are automotive enthusiasts who put a high premium on style. Davis zips over to the three-tone 1998 SS Camaro RK Sport, a chopped and lowered hot rod with a ragtop and a nitrous kit to boost horsepower. The Camaro's hand controls for brake and throttle are identical to the ones on Davis' 2001 Mercury Cougar.

    "I love it," he said. "This is radical. It's almost unheard of. Most people think this type of vehicle doesn't interest a person in a wheelchair, but it does. We want the hot cars, too."

    He is a bit more subdued at the Chevrolet Venture minivan. This vehicle has $8,000 worth of dealer-installed mobility options, including a remote-controlled second-row seat that pivots out of the wide sliding side door and lowers to the ground at the touch of a button. There's also a GM patented system that secures a motorized scooter and automatic hoist in the rear so they don't become missiles in a crash.

    "You wouldn't be able to enjoy the outdoors without this type of equipment," says Davis, who recently used a scooter when he broke his arm. "This type of system makes it easier on the caregiver, especially a small woman like my wife.

    It saves her back and it gives me my freedom."

    Next stop, a Saturn VUE sport-utility vehicle that is being outfitted to hold a motorized scooter. It gets a thumbs-up from Davis, who applauds efforts to put mobility features into trendy vehicles, not just workhorses like the minivan.

    Both Talbot and Davis, a human resources consultant, say they belong to the smallest segment of people with disabilities in the United States - the 2 million who are severely disabled enough to use a wheelchair or scooter. The U.S. Census Bureau says 73 percent of those people are unemployed.

    Mobility becomes a compelling business case, Talbot said, when you consider seniors with lots of disposable income will make up a third of the U.S. population by 2020. About 45 percent of new vehicle buyers older than 50 today have household incomes exceeding $75,000.

    "Our needs line up perfectly with the needs of seniors," said Talbot, speaking of people with disabilities.

  2. #2
    Finally, an SUV that can be driven from a wc!

    Next stop, a Saturn VUE sport-utility vehicle that is being outfitted to hold a motorized scooter.

  3. #3
    I e-mailed Saturn to find out when the modified VUE would be available. This is the second response I received after I e-mailed the article to them.

    Thanks for writing back with the article. I had not seen this information.
    (I'm always the last to know.)

    The VUE modifcations may still be in the planning stage. I have put in an
    inquiry to my team leaders and will let you know if I find anything out.

    Thanks again!

    Melanie Menke
    Saturn Customer Assistance Center
    I'll update everyone as new information comes in.

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