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Getting About When You Ain’t What You Used To Be

The Baby Boom generation is getting older.  We all know the effects that this generation has had on the world in general, including the automotive world – would the VW Beetle and the Mini have been as popular in the 1960s if families hadn’t needed somewhere to fit their Boomer children (and the older Boomers became more mobile and took the wheel)? Around the world, planners and developers are looking at this generation and are wondering what the effect will be on the roads as they hit the golden years.

One vehicle marque that has put a bit of thought into this is Toyota.  To meet the foreseeable demands of an aging population that (a) isn’t quite as fit and flexible as it used to be, (b) still wants the freedom of the motor vehicle, Toyota have come up with the Welcab concept.  The Welcab is not an individual model but it is a set of features that are incorporated into popular Toyota models, such as the Hiace van and others, such as the Previa and Estima.  In a nutshell, a Welcab equipped vehicle is set up so that mobility scooters and wheelchairs can get in and out of them easily – or the occupant of the wheelchair/mobility scooter can get in and out without too much hassle.  And yes, this does include drivers who get around in mobility scooters the rest of the time.

Of course, it’s not just older drivers who benefit from the Welcab concept.  Drivers with limited mobility and drivers who act as caregivers to the disabled or otherwise wheelchair-bound are also catered to by the Welcab.  The most popular Welcab is the Hiace van with a wheelchair access ramp at the rear, as commonly seen in wheelchair taxis and vehicles owned by nursing homes.

Toyota’s Welcab vehicles come from the factory floor with all the features set up for limited-mobility drivers and/or passengers, which makes them different from the after-market additions that can be fitted to other vehicles to make them suitable for wheelchair users, such as the gizmo fitted to a Subaru Legacy driven by a guy I knew with cerebral palsy – this gizmo lifted his  wheelchair off the roof of his car and popped it down by the driver’s seat to be unfolded and climbed into, and vice versa.

Other vehicle manufacturers are getting into the act, especially (it seems) in Japan. Mitsubishi has the Hearty Run (one of those “use the dictionary as a dartboard” names); Honda has the Fit Sports and the Almas.  Honda also has the swivel seat option in the Jazz.  Other marques are getting on board, although most cars for limited-mobility drivers tend to be after-market adaptations rather than factory floor versions.

Given that none of us are getting any younger and that we’ll all be a bit old and creaky one day, it’s likely that we’ll see more cars coming off the factory floor with ease-of-access features.

In the meantime, however, if you’re finding it a bit harder to get in and out of the car, an after-market swivel seat might be the way to go – these usually look like two discs stuck together, allowing you to get in and out a bit more easily.