FLEXIBILITY FOR THE DISABILITY: VANTAGE MOBILITY INTERNATIONAL, A PEAK BEHIND THE SHEET METAL
Having been working in the automotive industry for nearly 8-year now, not to mention been driving since 2002, it’s easily forgotten how much I take driving for granted. Having a disability often represents the difficulty to be mobile to get to work, run errands, or do things with the family. With roughly 10,000 people a day turning 65 years of age, nearly 25% of them are in need of mobility assistance. The demand for a Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle, or WAV for short is increasing rapidly. And that’s not including the hundreds of veterans or random tragic accidents a year that dramatically change lives in an instant.
Vantage Mobility International graciously hosted the Phoenix Automotive Press Association on a guided tour through their facility getting a firsthand preview at their WAV production line and what VMI sets out to accomplish.
With minivan being one of the largest cubic foot vehicles on the road with an airy cabin and room to roll around, it’s easily seen as to why they are highly used as mobility vehicles. Starting in 1987 with the very first Dodge Caravan, VMI has set out to change lives and bring awareness that being disable doesn’t have to keep you locked down. We now see vehicles like the Toyota Sienna, Honda Odyssey and Chrysler Pacifica as the common runners for WAV selected vehicles. And with the market heavily surrounded by crossovers, VMI has dipped their hands into that cookie jar as well with the Honda Pilot.
Phoenix isn’t the only manufacturing facility in the United States as VMI has quite a few across the country. Most of these facility, like the one here in Arizona work directly with the dealers. Their Atlanta, Georgia location however, there main objective is to be client oriented work directly with the customer.
Touring the Phoenix location, most of the vehicles that run through their facility are supplied by the dealer and being that they come in complete OEM form, these vans have to be completely disassembled and prepped for customization. With an assembly line in place, it can take their crew approximately 2-hours to strip an entire vehicle including the suspension leaving just the shell and the chassis.
The real magic happens behind the black curtain, literally, as the floor of the van has to be lowered 10-inches or so to fit the mobility compartment and a new frame is welded in place. This process also proceeds to the structural confinements of the shell as the sliding rear doors have to be extend to fit the ramp. Once the welders have successfully constructed the frame and installed the belly of the mobility slot, the van proceeds down the line getting all the essential constituents installed making it a wheelchair accessible vehicle. Following a reassembly processes, the vehicle is then prepped and reacquainted with the parts that made it a vehicle in the first place before heading off to a completely different facility where its fully inspected and detailed prior to delivery. This whole processed combined with the efforts of 200 employees can be achieved in roughly 2-days’ time – reluctant to release how many vehicles are completed a day, we got a hand motion of give or take a dozen or so.
VMI expressed something we didn’t quite expect, while every company is about making money, one of VMI’s main goals is insuring affordability to fit their client’s financial situation. By purchasing 1-2 year old minivans with less than 30,000 miles and a clean accident-free record – there concept of the new/used program that features a used chassis and engine but new interior with a new modify WAV helps benefit those that can’t quite meet the expense of a new WAV.
Each vehicle produce is followed by a rigorous inspection to insure its road safe for its client. Because VMI vehicles are heavily reconstructed with modifications to the chassis and structural integrity of their vehicles, they preform their own crash test to meet the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration..
When it comes to purchasing a VMI vehicle, there 300+ dealer network comes in handy as there is mostly a dealership near you. This also helps maintain the simplicity of servicing your vehicle for standard required maintenance. Each WAV, new or used comes standard with a 3-year warranty on top of the standard manufacturer’s warranty. VMI also includes a one-year complementary Mobility Roadside Assistance.
Like any vehicle, a VMI van has its fair share of selectable options, whether selecting an automated in-ramp or fold out ramp – the quality of the ramp – removable seats – so on and so forth. These options can fluctuate the pricing, but when asked, we couldn’t get a final total breakdown of the different options considering that the Phoenix location primarily work with the dealers, and its ultimately up to the dealer what they sale vehicle and listed options for. Giving us a rough consensus, one of their lower priced options including the vehicle can cost as little as $30,000 whereas the brand new 2019 Toyota Sienna they showcased for us with top of the mobility accessories can cost in the area of $60,000.
Considering the rise in mobility vehicles, manufacturers have taken notices and because of VMI’s relationship with these manufacturers, they get to participate in the assistance of design and engineering deliberations for future customization that could help save cost onto the consumer.
Bringing awareness, VMI has set out a large ad campaign to remind people, just because your disable doesn’t mean you can’t be free. With the slogan: Order. Deliver. Cruise. Purchasing your vehicle online, VMI delivers it straight to your driveway, and before you know it, you’re free to be… you!