Shopping for a new vehicle is always harder than it seems. You have to choose the right car for your needs, how much you can afford, whatever options you want and then find a dealer with the car you've chosen for hopefully the right price. In the end, providing you do all the homework, it could take weeks before you find the perfect car. But what if you or a loved one were confined to a wheelchair?
In that situation, the vehicle selection not only gets slimmer, but the buying process becomes even more difficult. After all, handicap-accessible van dealers aren't as ubiquitous as mainstream car dealerships and, in addition, servicing these vehicles is tough due to the electronics and other complicated systems. While there are dealers that cater to this demand by offering handicap-accessible van conversions, VMI -- or Vantage Mobility International -- offers one-stop shopping.
VMI has been in the market since the '70's and since then, the company has strived to, in their words, "produce the most reliable, highest quality and most easily accessible wheelchair vans in the world." They do conversions and build lifts, but their bread and butter is their complete line of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. They are available either turn-key or made-to-order, and they are sold and serviced through a network of dealers around the around the country and internationally.
VMI's minivan conversions are built at their facility in Phoenix, Arizona, based on the Honda Odyssey, Toyota Sienna and the Chrysler Town and Country. The design and assembly process is not unlike that of a mainstream vehicle manufacturer. Once a vehicle is procured by VMI, a team of builders disassemble various factory parts in the interior and replace them with conversion parts. The backbone is the floor pan that houses the ramp, designed to uphold the original-equipment structural rigidity of the vehicle. The modified pan lowers the vehicle floor by over 12 inches in order to compensate for the added height of the wheel chair, and this makes for a comfortable interior for wheelchair users and able-bodied passengers alike. Customers can choose from either a powered ramp or a manual fold-out ramp depending on their budget.
VMI retains the vehicle's suspension geometry to manufacturer spec by using modified spindles that raise the vehicle to compensate for the lower floor while maintaining the original ride quality. As for exterior modifications, side skirts and a rear bumper lip, which are paint-matched to the original color, are added in order to mask the ramp and ride height as well as give the minivan a touch of style.
VMI dropped by the KBB office recently to show off one of their converted Honda Odysseys. We were able to drive the vehicle for a short amount of time, and our key takeaway was that it rides and drives almost identical to a standard-issue Odyssey with the exception of some added road noise due to the hollowness of the new floor pan and the ramp inside of it.
For consumers seeking to convert their existing van, the price is around $24,500, while VMI's ready-made vans can range anywhere from $42,000 - $60,000 depending on the options chosen. For more information on VMI and the products they offer, visit www.vantagemobility.com.