An EV designed for electric wheelchairs

Electric vehicles are still relatively ‘young’ and though there are various EV bodystyles to choose from – just like combustion engine vehicles – more specialised vehicles have yet to be considered. For example, vehicles which can accommodate wheelchairs (without being folded) are necessary for disabled people.

In some countries, these are known as wheelchair-accessible vehicles (WAVs) and manufacturers in Japan have long been offering special versions of certain models which can take on wheelchairs or have special seating designs for those who have physical disabilities.

Wheelchair-accessible vehicles
In Japan, most of the carmakers have been offering WELCAB versions of certain models which can take in a wheelchair. (Right) In 2003, Perodua also displayed at Kenari which could accommodate a wheelchair in its rear section. Tan Chong was also known to offer modified versions of some of its Nissan models for those with disabilities.

Motability Operations, a commercial organisation in the UK that delivers the life-changing Motability Scheme to disabled people, is supporting its 750,000 customers in the transition to EVs by highlighting challenges and finding solutions. It currently has over 34,000 WAVs on the road, with around 4,000 applications each year for small and medium WAVs.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

Design issues with EVs
In many EVs, the floor-mounted battery reduces internal height and space within the cabin and also limits the available payload. Without a solution, this would lead to customers in a wheelchair having to opt for larger vehicles than what they need when switching to electric.

Now the company has come out with a next-generation wheelchair accessible vehicle concept which addresses the needs of those users in the transition to small/medium EVs. Known as eVITA, it is designed and engineered by CALLUM for electrically-powered wheelchairs, so it is referred to as an eWAV.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

The EV concept has been developed using inclusive design principles with input from Motability Scheme customers throughout. Utilising eVITA to demonstrate what is possible, Motability Operations wants to collaborate with the automotive industry to ensure inclusive design principles are considered throughout development, so that wheelchair users are not left behind.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

“The transition to electric simply won’t work unless it’s accessible for all,” says Andrew Miller, CEO of Motability Operations. “We have the largest fleet in the UK and three quarters of a million disabled customers who rely on their vehicles for their independence. Our customers aren’t the typical early EV adopters, they’re more representative of the wider population, and we know from first-hand insight what the challenges of having an EV will be for everyone. Without solutions and an equitable switch to electric, thousands of people could be left behind.

Customer clinics
Through research clinics, Motability Scheme customers provided valuable insight into the common pain points and priorities for passenger WAV users when on the road. Customers were insistent that the solution should be flexible and address their access needs without compromising design form.

The exterior has a bold and striking silhouette, with a sleek roofline that accommodates access requirements and provides appropriate headroom for wheelchair users entering via the rear split tailgate. With a wheelbase of 2980 mm, the eVITA measures 4520 mm in length, 1908 mm in width and 1800 mm in height, satisfying requests for a more compact footprint than is currently available.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

“Today, electric vehicles are not offering the functionality and flexibility required by WAV users,” observed Ian Callum, Design Director at CALLUM. “Carmakers, their designers and engineers must plan ahead and embrace inclusive design principles to ensure that WAV users and disabled people are not forgotten in the transition to EVs. With eVITA, form and functionality have been developed in parallel, resulting in a well-considered, user-friendly EV that is both practical and stylish.”

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Improving the travelling experience
Critical to the design of the eVITA is the positioning of the battery and repackaging the battery [ack and rearranging the internal components reduces overall height. With the reengineered battery pack positioned under the floor behind the first row of seats, the design ensures that the floor between the vehicle tailgate and front row is completely flat.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

This allows a wheelchair to smoothly travel from the ramped entrance through the interior and be positioned closer to other occupants. Where possible, lightweight materials have been used to offset the payload requirements for onboard equipment.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

This packaging design has allowed for a ride height of 160 mm, which is comparable to that of a hatchback. This contributes to easier access and increased headroom. It also means that the wheelchair user has an improved, lower seating position in the cabin, which was important for many Motability Scheme customers.

Having wheelchair users at a similar height to other vehicle occupants helps them to feel more connected to other passengers and also improves visibility. With a higher seating position, visibility can be restricted by the roofline. Sitting lower, combined with a glasshouse of over 35,000 square cm that also features a cutaway panoramic roof, ensures optimum visibility for all vehicle occupants, while the dramatic side window graphic adds style and interest.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

There are two charging ports – one on the nearside rear and a lower, front-mounted option for ease of access for all users. The vehicle’s 50 kWh battery provides an anticipated range of around 320 kms.

Split tailgate design
The cabin has two front and two rear doors, with the rear sliding doors featuring accessible release buttons. The split tailgate design has the upper section acting as an extension to the roof to keep users dry when entering and exiting in wet weather – with an electronic door opening system.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

A wide, low angle ramp automatically extends from inside, with a winch aiding wheelchair users’ entry into the vehicle cabin. The tailgate is a critical functional feature of the eWAV and an area where those at the customer clinics really emphasised the need for easy operation.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

Lighting to keep rear end clear
Additionally, customers stressed the common frustration of other motorists parking too close to the rear, making it difficult – and often impossible – to lower the access ramp when returning to their vehicle. To alert other motorists while parked, the eVITA uses energy-efficient LED puddle lights to visually project onto the ground the essential space required for the extended ramp at the rear of the vehicle.

Motability Operations - CALLUM eVITA EV concept

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