Coolest existing product at the WCD Expo? Without a doubt, the Honda Element XWav wheelchair conversion. Forget the van — this SUV gets 26 MPH, and the conversion is a marvel of simple good sense. Freedom Motors had a passenger side conversion at the show. They dropped the right front floor ten inches, leaving a level floor where the front seats go, and an opening an amazing 56 inches tall.
The show model had an electric ramp; a manual is also available. See it on the Freedom Motors website. Thanks to the Element’s unusual doors, access to the back seat (and yes, you can leave the standard, production back seat) is easy-pie — just load those kids, family, friends right in!
Externally, the XWav appears identical to any other Element; better yet, it parks and goes just like an Element (oh, yeah, I admit it, it’s one of my favorite cars of all time). Flip and flop those cool Element back seats, and you can go just about anywhere and do just about anything . . . roomy inside, but so much smaller than a van! And so much more economical (and fun) to run . . .
Incidentally, the reps claimed that ground clearance was not significantly impaired. For off-roading, maybe, but visually it looks plenty adequate for paved streets driven at legal speeds. You can identify the conversion if you’re very observant and know what you’re looking for, but the alteration to the exterior is surprisingly subtle.
AeroMobility also has the conversion, and excellent pictures, on its site. This one’s of a full front-seat conversion, with the floor dropped across the front, to accomodate both a driver and a passenger in wheelchairs.
Cost? New Element, around $20,000. Conversion with electric ramp, around $21,000. Total? A wallet-popping $41,000 — maybe more by the time you’re actually out the door.
Drop the price by buying a used Element and converting it. (Hint — look for one at a non-Honda dealership, where it’s been traded in — you’ll usually get a better price than at a Honda dealer because the non-Honda dealer customers aren’t pre-disposed toward Honda, much less the Element.)
Or watch Disabled Dealer (a print version’s available, too) for a used conversion from a private party — needs change, people’s lives change, and this is ever a good source for disability aids.
Another option: eBay Motors, but only for the experienced, the cynical, and those prepared to work hard to find an honest deal.
That said, I had no luck at all finding an affordable, used Element conversion during my recent van search. The Element’s a fairly recent model for Honda, and maybe, just maybe, this is a conversion people can live with. Which is more than I can say for the one I actually did buy. More on that later.