Introducing the CompanionVan
As everyone knows, there are many different types of disabilities, and no one vehicle can be the perfect solution for everybody. While the majority of our customers choose traditional side-entry wheelchair vans, there are a significant number of people who prefer the rear-entry design with the ramp in the back of the minivan. So I’m happy to announce we have a new product coming out in November–the CompanionVan RE!
Some of you may have seen rear-entry vehicles before, and you may even own a rear-entry Ford Windstar or Toyota Sienna that BraunAbility converted in the past. But this is the first time we’ve offered a rear-entry conversion on the popular Chrysler/Dodge chassis. It joins the side-entry CompanionVan SE in our “manual” minivan lineup and it looks like it will be a winner for those who prefer or need the rear-entry design. So here’s the scoop on this new van:
First and foremost, it is intended for wheelchair users who will travel with an attendant (or a “companion,” get it?). The door can be manual or automatic depending on how the original vehicle is equipped, and the ramp is manual fold/unfold. The ramp is spring-assisted and has a handle that helps you unfold it–I’ve tried it out while shooting the pictures you see here, and it is very easy to do one-handed. Also, the length of the ramp translates to a very gentle ramp angle–if you use a manual wheelchair you’ll really appreciate this. There is a two-way locking mechanism that holds the ramp very securely when it’s folded up.
The first comment people usually make when they see a rear-entry wheelchair van is, “Looks neat, but you lose all the seating!” Some people need to use their van for both ambulatory and wheelchair passengers, and of course that presents a problem with no rear seating! But with its “Flip & Fold” seats, this is where the CompanionVan RE really shines. We’ve used folding seats in other conversions in the past, but the guys in engineering really outdid themselves this time–these are the easiest to use and the most functional we’ve ever offered. The best thing is, when they’re folded up they don’t protrude into the lowered floor area at all–far from it as a matter of fact (you can see this in the picture below–click on it to make it bigger). That means you can get two wheelchairs in the lowered floor area easily. Flip the seats down (using a really slick one-hand release), and you have seating for two additional ambulatory passengers, with room in the rear of the van for one wheelchair passenger.
OK, so there’s an obvious difference between side-entry and rear-entry CompanionVans–the location of the ramp of course. Why would you choose a rear-entry conversion? A lot of variables go into the decision, but it really comes down to one word: PARKING! If you live in areas with tight parking situations, having the ramp in the rear of the vehicle can be a life saver. Or maybe you have a one-car garage with no space beside the vehicle for a ramp. On the other side of the coin, if you do a lot of parallel parking the side-entry may be your best bet. The bottom line is, think carefully about how you will use your van before you make a decision, and most importantly, talk to and visit your dealer to try them both out first! Buying a wheelchair minivan is definitely not a one-size-fits-all proposition–do your homework now and it could save you lots of money and headaches later on.
Which brings us to another big advantage of the CompanionVan RE: cost! The goal from the beginning was to keep this no-nonsense conversion at a very low price point. Compared to traditional side-entry vans, the rear-entry conversion is a lot easier for us to build–so we can pass the savings of this “simpler” design on to you. Check with your dealer and I think you may be surprised how affordable this van can be–especially when a used chassis with low mileage is converted.
The CompanionVan RE will start hitting your BraunAbility dealer’s lot in November. If you don’t know where your dealer is, you can find them here. Again, the choice between side- and rear-entry is a big one, so be sure to do your homework. Ask your dealer lots of questions before considering a purchase. You can also start by asking us anything below!