The relatively new Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle (WAV) market has thousands of customers with unique needs and approximately 20 vehicle converters operating around the UK. Lewis Reed discusses how they have achieved a competitive advantage as the market has developed and future considerations for the industry.
Lewis Reed first started converting vehicles in 1993 as part of Lewis Reed Motor Dealer Group, undertaking conversions in a small unit behind the dealership, before being iIncorporated in 1999. In the same year, the company moved to larger premises in Birkenhead before relocating to its current factory in 2003. The organisation now employs 50 people and has completed approximately 10,000 conversions to date.
In the early days, Lewis Reed offered conversions that were based on Renault and Nissan Vans but as time progressed, evolved to offer a wide range of mainly luxury MPV based conversions. The company notes that the market changed, with people looking to purchase a WAV wanting greater choice and levels of comfort, more in line with a family saloon rather than a converted van. In particular, Motability is a major consideration for customers and has considerably improved their finance offering over the years.
Over the last 23 years, Lewis Reed has invested heavily in research, design and development, focusing on fit, function and finish. With more design staff than any other vehicle converter according to the company and access to the latest CAD systems & ancillary equipment, the organisation is looking to install greater functionality in terms of wheelchair and seating positions, as well as the choice of various access systems.
The company says that probably the biggest development for the industry has been PAS 2012 - a standard for WAVs developed by the industry and British Standards International (BSI). PAS 2012 ensures that all vehicles are now built to a set standard in terms of design, safety and service. The standard set has gone a long way to enhance the reputation of the WAV industry as an established sector within the mobility market with some very well respected manufacturers.
Looking to the future, the management team at Lewis Reed believe that one of the biggest challenges the industry will face will continue to be from legislation. WAV legislation is currently set in Brussels where its trade association has worked hard to build relationships and maintain a dialogue with Brussels, with the aim of ensuring that inappropriate legislation does not adversely affect its customer’s mobility and the WAV industry here in the UK. With the result of the recent Brexit vote, there is now a level of uncertainty as to who will be in charge of legislation in the future.
The company is also expanding its offer to customers with the latest addition to the portfolio of wheelchair accessible vehicles with the new Mercedes V-Class Grande which Lewis Reed says will introduce a new level of luxury, comfort and choice which is unrivalled in the UK. The V-Class Grande will be available in two models the Sport and AMG line in the extra-long wheelbase.
To ensure entering and exiting the vehicle is as easy as possible the V-Class Grande is fitted with electric sliding doors on both sides, a side lift is also available as an option. For wheelchair access, the large automatic powered tailgate opens to enable a remote-controlled rear lift or lowered floor and lowering suspension.
Every vehicle supplied by Lewis Reed is bespoke and customised to ensure it meets the requirements of the individual user, coming with a comprehensive range of options and flexible seating positions for users, carers and family.
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