I’ve had some interesting conversations recently with a couple of long time VMI customers and it got me thinking about wheelchair vans and how far they have come in the past 20+ years. The first lowered floor accessible van was built in the 70’s on an Oldsmobile Toronado, one of the first front-wheel drive cars at that time. The new vehicle, called the FAMCAR, used a ramp rather than a wheelchair lift, and was an immediate success. I was recently contacted by an original FAMCAR owner in Washington DC. He no longer had use for the vehicle and wanted to know if VMI would like to buy it back and restore it to it’s original state.
Sean, another customer I was talking with last week was driving a 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan with a VMI Summit conversion. The van looked like it was in great shape and I couldn’t believe it was a 2003. Sean is looking for a new van but is undecided as to what to get, but mostly because he isn’t aware of what is currently on the market. He was complaining about how his current Summit fold-out ramp rattles when he drives. It is strange to say, but I was surprised at his comment because it’s a complaint I hadn’t heard in some time. Three years ago, we implemented an anti-rattle device in all our Summit fold-out ramps which has quieted the ramp rattle to almost nothing.
In the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s I think wheelchair van manufactures, like VMI, were more figuring things out than being strategic. We were building great products but they were more functional than anything. We simply just wanted the ramp systems to work and help people get in and out of their minivans. What we failed to do was any market research or have a productive way to collect customer data – and then ultimately do something with it. In addition to this, there were only a couple of manufacturers of lowered floor accessible vans and we all know that competition drives better products, better pricing and an overall better customer experience.
When we look at this decade with all that has changed in the Mobility Industry; drastic increase in the number of manufacturers which have brought about a wide array of options and choices for wheelchair vans. In the 80’s and 90’s customer’s had really one option, a Dodge Grand Caravan with a side-entry conversion. Now there are Honda & Toyota accessible vans, there are rear-entry conversions, manual and fully powered ramp systems and hundreds of lift options in which to choose.
The greatest thing that has happened this decade is the features that have been integrated into the wheelchair van conversions. We no longer think of a ramp system as merely a ramp. We try to make it as quiet, reliable and functional as possible. We strive to be better and better everyday, delivering a product that delights customers.