First Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle in United States Reimagined

Ralph Braun's original postal van conversion and the 2023 reimagined Ralph-e
Named 'Ralph-E’ after the company’s founder, Ralph Braun, the refurbished 1961 postal Jeep bridges the company’s history of innovation to the future of personal accessible travel.

CARMEL  – March 01, 2023 – When Ralph Braun purchased an old postal Jeep in 1966, he had one goal: find a way to make it both accessible and drivable from his battery-powered scooter. Braun lived with muscular dystrophy, and the disease was gradually stealing his strength. He needed a way to get himself and his battery-powered scooter – also his own invention – to and from his job at a local factory in his hometown of Winamac, Indiana. The result was the country’s first wheelchair-accessible vehicle. 

Braun didn’t realize it at the time, but his personal invention was the foundation of the automotive mobility industry and would revolutionize accessibility for people with mobility challenges around the world. In 1972, Braun founded The Braun Corporation (today known as BraunAbility), and 50 years later his company is the global leader of automotive mobility solutions. 

To recognize its 50th anniversary, the company issued an internal challenge: build a mobility solution that both honored the BraunAbility’s legacy of innovation and incorporate the future of mobility technology. 

The answer to the challenge was Ralph-E, a reimagining of the original postal Jeep engineered with modern mobility equipment. The team located a 1961 Jeep identical to the original chassis, a rare Willy’s FJ-3 “Fleetvan.” The Jeep’s gas engine, fuel system, steering and suspension were removed, and the new custom frame was modeled after the original. The reengineered vehicle includes: 

  • Electric drivetrain from a Waev GEM eL XD vehicle• 4-corner custom air kneel system
  • ADA-compliant, infloor ramp 
  • BraunAbility Turny® Evo seat
  • BraunAbility/Q’Straint Omni aluminum floor
  • All-new modern steering system converted to right-hand drive
  • 4” lowered rear fender wells to accentuate the lowered floor aesthetic
  • Updated LED headlights, turn signals and brake lights

Ralph-E’s name and exterior design came from a company-wide competition, and submissions were voted on by long-time BraunAbility employees, some of whom were founding members of the company. Ralph-E is a nod to the company’s founder and the ‘E’ represents the electric drivetrain. The paint scheme reflects the original postal Jeep’s colors and includes former logos from Ralph’s company and a ghosted image of Ralph in the side windows. 

Ralph-E will spend time displayed at the company’s headquarters in Carmel and Winamac, IN and is available for appearances at automotive mobility shows throughout 2023.  

Ralph-E Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle 2023