NMEDA Auto Access

Looking Forward: Mobility Industry 2011 Outlook

While commemorating the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) last year, we were reminded that full accessibility for more than 4 million American wheelchair users is not yet a reality. Much remains to be accomplished.

A Gradual Recovery

Recognizing the realities of the marketplace, let’s start our look forward with a brief look back at 2010. The biggest issue at hand was the economic recession and how customer demand and affordability were affected. Although the mobility industry wasn’t hit quite as hard as the general economy, the recession certainly had an impact. Sales are lagging below peak levels in 2007, but, consistent with the general automotive market, we’ve seen a slow recovery.

There are a number of factors contributing to the slowness of the recovery.

Consumer attitudes and perceptions have had a major role. As long as consumers are nervous about the general health of the economy and their own personal finances, this issue will be a persistent drag on sales. Of course, the difficulty in obtaining credit has had a major impact on customer affordability. Additionally, the reduced availability of low-mileage, pre-owned chassis has impacted the industry’s opportunity to provide a lower entry price point.

Looking forward, there are several issues at hand — all of which will make 2011 a very interesting and exciting year for the mobility industry. Certainly, everyone is looking forward to a real economic recovery in 2011. While there are bits and pieces of good news, there are also indications that the recovery might be slower than we’d all like. For instance, we’ve all seen the recent increase in gas prices. Let’s be cautiously optimistic!

Awareness of Mobility Products

We’re all familiar with a major issue that’s been hindering sales — the lack of consumer awareness of our industry and product offerings. Efforts by the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA), mobility dealers, and manufacturers will produce a real increase in awareness in 2011. We predict that this will have a positive impact on customer demand.

The increase in customer choices will also have a positive impact on our industry. Dodge, Chrysler, Honda and Toyota all have new minivan offerings in the 2011 model year, providing our customers with an excellent range of choices that address a wide variety of needs.

The next issue at hand is customer affordability. Issues impacting the industry in 2010 will likely
linger into 2011. There are two ways to approach this issue. The first is to develop and offer less expensive vehicles — being more innovative with both our product planning and our business processes can and will take cost out. Braun has been and will continue to aggressively address costs in 2011. We expect that all businesses associated with the mobility industry, be they manufacturers or dealers, will do the same.

The second way of addressing customer affordability is to be more creative and innovative with methods of reducing customer payments. The general automotive market has many examples of these methods, and 2011 may be a good year for us to experiment with creative financing strategies.

A perennial issue is that of distribution. The brick-and-mortar concept works extremely well in our industry. The local expertise and support provided by mobility dealers has yet to be duplicated. Yet, the Internet-direct sellers persist and will continue to be an option for our customer base. The increasing expertise of local dealers and brick-and-mortar-committed manufacturers, particularly in the area of web marketing, is vital to ensuring that we grow our business and expand the customer base.

The brick-and-mortar mobility dealer body is maturing, with improved business processes, better marketing and in some cases, consolidation of ownership. We predict that this trend will continue in 2011.

Finally, we need to recognize the important role of NMEDA. There are several initiatives underway, but one of notable importance to all is NMEDA’s role as an independent verifier of manufacturer safety testing. Our customers expect that our product offerings meet or exceed government safety standards. With NMEDA’s help, customers finally have an independent source verifying that manufacturers have complied with relevant government safety standards. And that’s definitely a positive!

As we begin 2011, let’s remember that our products are truly life-changing for our customers. Every day we provide freedom to individual customers and families in very unique ways. Let’s keep our eye on the ball and stay focused so that we can make 2011 a very special year for the thousands of people who will enjoy and value the products and services we’re offering.

This article originally appeared in the February 2011 issue of Mobility Management.

About the Author

Greg Cook, VP of BraunAbility, is responsible for establishing the overall direction of Braun’s sales & marketing organization, including Braun’s consumer and commercial dealer distribution channels.

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