Can electric mobility still become accessible?

The European Mobility Group (EMG) brings together the leading European vehicle conversion and adaptation companies with a common goal: Independent mobility for disabled people.

In our previous press release, we explained that many disabled people will effectively get locked out of electric vehicles (EVs). It’s like a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, and no single party can solve this. There are possible solutions, but they won’t be easy. They will require co-operation, compromises and problem solving at the highest corporate and government levels.

“A perfect storm…” Really?

Our climate is in trouble and we’re in the middle of an energy transition. So many choose to stop using cars with internal combustion engines (ICE). Unfortunately, many drivers and passengers with disabilities won’t be given that choice. There aren’t many EVs that meet their needs.

So why is it so difficult to find an accessible EV at a decent price? Well, that’s that perfect storm:

  • Only few models are fit for conversions
  • Most EVs are more expensive than their ICE-powered counterparts
  • Many adaptations are effectively disallowed by the manufacturers because they require modifications of the EV’s electronics.
  • Many modifications require drilling and cutting into the floor. But because these are packed with batteries and electronics, floors are no-drill zones.

Manufacturers can’t literally disallow these adaptations, but they can void the factory warranty, which is a strong tool. And no, this doesn’t make EV manufacturers the bad guys, they’re merely protecting their highly sophisticated electronics.

So that’s it for accessible EVs then?

Some EV solutions are already available, like for instance special seats or hand controls. Still, hand controls aren’t the mechanical solutions they used to be, so they often require modifications of the electronics. And if a special seat needs to be fixed to the floor, we’re back to that no-drill zone.

Even so, if manufacturers and vehicle adapters put their minds together, they can assign (or design) spots where drilling is allowed. Adapters may need to redesign their seats around these new mounting points, but that’s fine. Of course, this is just one example of a possible solution. But this kind of co-operation, and willingness to compromise, is exactly what is needed to make electric mobility more accessible.

 

Campbell McKee, President of EMG (pictured above)

Campbell has led EMG for nine years, which gives him good insight into the problems that drivers and passengers with disabilities face in this electric transition. He also has well-founded ideas on solutions and pitfalls. Time to talk to Campbell:

“I see the lack of connectivity with manufacturers as one of the biggest obstacles against progress. Vehicle adaptation companies and spokespersons for disabled people need a much better general connection with the auto industry. Automobile manufacturers are currently focused on the huge challenges their industry is facing. So, it is quite understandable that groups like disabled people aren't their priority. But even if this is understandable, it needs to be addressed.”

 

How could EMG get better connectivity with manufacturers?

“I think the solution is political. I believe the European Commission should champion accessible EVs. The EU has legislation in place on social equality, but if their technical legislation for vehicles is blocking the future for disabled people, isn’t that discrimination? The EU needs to instruct the auto industry to accommodate vehicle conversions. Then we can find ways to prevent this inequality, together.” 

 

Besides manufacturers, what other parties should be involved in the discussions, and which issues need to be tackled?

“To make electric mobility accessible to disabled people, discussions must include representatives for people with disabilities, car conversion companies, national governments, urban planners, manufacturers of charging points and rule makers. And it should go beyond the technical regulations for cars. As we know, most of Europe’s electric infrastructure still needs to be built, so it’s crucial for instance that the EU rules ensure that public charging points will become accessible, and soon.” 

 

Can you give some examples of compromises and co-operations that could help the cause?

“An important step is that manufacturers give vehicle adaptation companies a link to the EV’s electronics. We need an accessible interface where adaptation companies can plug into the vehicle electronics system, without compromising the vehicle’s main functions. 

Furthermore, I believe we need more technical collaboration within EMG. Of course, I can’t mandate that, and such an exchange has always existed anyway. But it’s even more important now. EMG’s collective knowledge bank is needed. If company A makes a very good power steering and company B makes great hand controls, they should use each other's products for a fee, and offer their clients the best solutions.” 

 

Campbell, you will retire in October 2022. What would you like to see in your successor?

“I know myself, and I know my limitations. I believe that in this current situation, we need an ambassador, someone who knows how to deal with governments and the auto industry. Look at the higher prices for EVs and many conversions for example. Politicians stimulate the use of EVs with tax advantages, subsidies, designated parking spaces, etc. I believe similar incentives should be created for conversions. So, in short, we need someone who can influence decision makers, and excels in the strategic development of relationships.”

 

What achievement are you happiest with? And what do you want to set in motion before you leave?

“I am pleased that the best companies in Europe have joined EMG, and they all meet the ISO, international quality management standard. I also like how EMG has evolved from a trade association into a voice of the disabled people. We achieved most of what we set out to do, but soon EMG must take its voice all the way to the European Commission. And I’m confident that my successor will steer EMG towards this next step.”

 

EMG July 2022

[email protected]

www.mobilitygroup.eu