Signs of Change
The extent to which providers are involved in automotive access is reflective of the spectrum of automotive access products that exist in the market. Product offerings encompass the straightforward – such as a portable ramp – to the morecomplex – such as a complete van conversion. Even seemingly complicated adaptive controls can range from the less complex, such as spinner knobs, to complicated systems that can cost as much as the vehicle. Auto access providers are similar. While some might dabble in auto access equipment, other providers are fully immersed in the market. But is the type of auto access provider changing?
“The client in today’s market is looking for a full line, one-stop shopping type dealership, and the most successful companies in this industry have modeled their businesses after a car dealership, says Peter Ruprecht, president of Drive-Master Co. Inc. “This [business model] seems to work the best, and one must have the experienced staff to make it work. It has become harder for the Mom and Pop type businesses. Most have evolved to compete with the larger one-stop businesses.”
The market is evolving by the consolidation of dealerships and groups being formed to appear larger than they really are by sharing the same business name but operating under different owners to combat the consolidators, according to Ruprecht.
Mike Krawczyk, marketing services manager of Bruno Independent Living Aids says, “Today’s providers must realize that it is a changing world. There is no one single solution for auto accessibility. If they are smart, providers will search out and develop relationships with referral sources — occupational therapists and physical therapists — who can lead their patients to the best solutions for independence.”
Tom Wright, owner of WrightWay, a provider of automotive access solutions in Garland, Texas says, “The senior market growth is affecting both the manufacturer and retail aspect of the mobility industry. The seniors will take time to develop into a noticeable trend, but will be a solid market after the products and marketing strategies are designed and implemented.”
Switching Gears: Product Offerings
Auto access manufacturers create solutions that promote independence and safety for the end user. For providers wanting to enhance their current auto access product offerings, manufacturers discussed the merits of their latest innovations.
Ruprecht says Drive-Master offers a full-line of auto access products from spin knobs to high tech EMC driving controls, drop floor mini-vans, full-size vans and accessible rental vans.
“These products help any physically challenged person that could be licensed to drive a motor vehicle or ride as a passenger,” Ruprecht says.
Bruno Independent Living Aids
Krawczyk says, “The Turnout is a seat that rotates (approximately 90 degrees) allowing easier access to either the driver of passenger positions. It also slides out, over the door sill, bridging the gap for an easier transfer by a caregiver. The Turny is a seat which not only rotates, but is also powered up and down outside the vehicle to the desired height of the occupant or a caregiver.”
Krawczyk also encourages providers to have a strong connection with clinicians such as physical and occupational therapists and show them how auto access products can provide solutions to both the user and and caregiver. “TAS products are tremendously popular with physical and occupational therapists because of the ease of operation for their patients and caregivers,” Krawczyk says.
“The use of these seats do not emphasize a user’s limitations; they provide a dignified and elegant means to enter and exit virtually any vehicle,” Krawczyk says.
The Carony Transportation System “is an automobile seat that transforms into a wheelchair through the use of a locking rail system and a special wheelchair base,” Krawczyk says, eliminating the need for caregivers to lift clients.
Sure-Lok offers a securement system called Dock ‘N’ Lock offering people with disabilities the ability to drive.
Erin Moran, marketing services coordinator for SureLok says, “The Dock ’N’ Lock system’s unique design allows for easy docking and the dual-locking arm mechanism minimizes movement for maximum protection and comfort. The compact 6” x 9” dock module offers greater maneuverability for a larger variety of wheelchairs including low-profile chairs, such as Golden, Sunrise, Invacare, Permobil and Pride’s Jazzy 600 and 1100 series.”
The Dock ’N’ Lock System features a low-profile wheelchair bracket loop to provide maximum ground clearance and to prevent snagging on uneven, real-world surfaces such as thresholds or carpets. The Dock ’N’ Lock Docking System gives people with special needs the freedom to get behind the wheel drive without assistance.
EZ In and Out
EZ In and Out offers a Hassle–Free Manual Wheelchair Loader for wheelchair convenience. The EZ In and Out makes it easy to load and unload a manual wheelchair from a vehicle without heavy lifting and awkward positioning that result from manual loading.
Harmar’s AL600 Hybrid Platform Lift is available with an adjustable platform that will allow the lift to work in even more applications. The lift is compatible with virtually all-popular minivans and many SUV’s, the AL600 upgraded platform measures 28.5” in width with length-wise adjustability from 38.5” to 45.5”. The AL600 requires no assembly and the simple installation utilizes existing third-row seat hardware - no drilling required.
Auto Access Shifts Focus to Changing Senior Demographic
At the Association of Driver Rehabilitation Specialists’ (ADED’s) annual show held in Dallas this year, there was an increased focus on senior driving issues. ADED is obviously keeping one step ahead of the changing demographics and helping educate driver rehabilitation specialists about the increase in senior drivers now on the road.
In a session at ADED presented by Elin Schold Davis, OTR/L, Older Driver Safety and Resources for Transportation, she discussed the DriveWell program, designed to increase conversations about senior driving issues.
Funded by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the DriveWell program promotes community conversations to increase driver safety and more transportation choices for adults over the age of 65; encourages older drivers to change when and how they drive; prompts older adults to use alternative forms of transportation; stimulates communities to assess the need for and, if needed, offers transportation choices more responsive to the needs of older adults. (More information about the DriveWell toolkit can be located at www.asaging.org.drivewell.)
With older drivers being the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, manufacturers of vehicles as well as manufacturers of adaptive equipment are designing more products to respond to the needs of seniors.
“All of the OEM car dealers are gearing their products and equipment to this group, and the mobility manufacturers are doing the same thing. There is a full line of products for this group and most of the vehicles they are driving,” Ruprecht says.
Krawczyk agrees, “One of the most important and common considerations for the use of TAS products are for individuals who do not have disabilities in the traditional sense, but who simply find the turning, twisting and climbing required to get into and out of a vehicle (especially today’s high riding minivans, SUVs and pickup trucks) so difficult. With the aging of the baby boomer generation, this will be a growing need,” Krawczyk says.
An increase in products to address the senior market is likely to increase.
Moran says, “There will be an impact on the industry. As baby boomers age, they will demand independence with many aspects of their lives, such as driving, vehicles, homes and health. Being able to drive their own vehicles will increase the demand for accessible vehicles.”
For seniors who are not yet ready for modified vans, Ruprecht says, providers can educate clients about scooter and wheelchair lifts and transfer seats.
The automotive access market will continue to grow significantly for the next 20 to 30 years, according to Krawczyk.
“Not only are the baby boomers going to require help in using their vehicles, but the attitudes of and about people with mobility issues has changed. These people will no longer take a back seat in their determination to get around and lead active, mobile lives.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2007 issue of HME Business.