We aren’t following the Chicago Auto Show too closely because it’s basically a showcase of “special edition” cars with new paint packages. However, Chrysler debuted the new BraunAbility Chrysler Pacifica, and believe me when I say it’s big news for drivers or family members with disabilities.
If you’re a wheelchair user and are looking to buy a car, the minivan platform is the most popular body style due to its ease of use and flexibility. There are other options available like smaller vans and SUVs, like the Ford Explorer, but for most folks with mobility impairments, the minivan is the best tool for the job.
BraunAbility has been in the van conversion game for a long time. Founder and wheelchair owner Ralph Braun made the first hydraulic wheelchair lift and installed it in a full-size Dodge van, a 1972 Dodge B series Ram Van. It became the world’s first commercialized wheelchair-accessible vehicle.
The company went on to make handicapped equipped versions of those large conversion vans that were popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s and were the first company to adapt the original Dodge Caravan, which popularized the modern minivan.
Dodge and Chrysler have come a long way since then. Today’s vans are a lot bigger, more luxurious, and safer. For 2017 BruanAbility outfits the Pacifica with the largest side opening and ramp ever on a minivan. In addition to that, Chrysler is boasting that the van is the “Most spacious wheelchair-equipped vehicle on the road.”
Granted, when FCA is touting the crazy wide tires and giant air intakes on their upcoming Demon, a wide ramp doesn’t sound all that impressive. However, for the people that use these cars every day, a wider ramp, door and additional interior space means way more to those owners than silly horsepower numbers.
Every wheelchair user has different needs and different equipment, from incredibly heavy and expensive full power chairs to basic and lightweight manually operated ones. Some of these pieces of equipment can be difficult to maneuver in tight spaces, which makes operating or riding in a vehicle difficult. An extra few inches can feel like several feet when you have to turn, position your chair and either drive or transfer into the driver’s seat.
BraunAbility also offers conversion packages for the Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna among other vehicles. Since I have some first-hand experience shopping in this segment, I will say that on average the FCA branded conversions come out a little bit cheaper than the imports. Chrysler offers a $1,000 mobility credit to anyone shopping for a new BruanAbility Pacifica.
Expect to see more than a few of these on the road. They’ll be a godsend for people who need a little extra help getting around.