Catching Up with the Auto Access Industry

NMEDA CEO: “It’s Starting to Turn Around”

While the ongoing global recession has hurt virtually every type of industry, the automotive industry in the United States was especially hard hit. With signs that the economy may be slowly improving — and with the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA) annual conference scheduled for Reno, Nev., this month — Mobility Management checked in with Dave Hubbard, NMEDA’s CEO, to ask how the organization and the adaptive automotive industry at large are faring.

To keep pace with all of NMEDA’s activities this year, visit nmeda.org.

Mobility Management: The mainstream automotive industry has been hit extremely hard by this current recession. Has the recession hurt the adaptive automotive industry as well?

Dave Hubbard: Of course it has. Because it impacted the mainstream automotive industry manufacturers, like Chrysler and GM and Toyota, product became pretty scarce there for awhile. It was hard for dealers who were in line to get conversions done to come up with products to have them converted. So it did impact us.

It seems to be coming back around. Most of our dealers adapted by trying to stay out in front of it and were able to do that when purchasing vehicles. Also, the industry has turned to using used vehicles for new conversions a little bit more than it has in the past, and that’s not a terrible thing, because that helps the consumer and the dealer as well. It’s been weathered, and it feels like it’s starting to turn around now. Most of our conversion manufacturers feel like business is getting better. It’s good to hear.

MM: Did the automotive manufacturers rescind their mobility rebate programs as a result of their financial hardships?

DH: No, they’ve still all got them in place, much to our happiness. They have been great about keeping them in place and supporting their mobility programs and efforts.

MM: We’ve heard anecdotally about mainstream consumers holding onto their current cars and postponing new-car purchases as a result of the economic uncertainties. Did NMEDA dealers notice similar behaviors among their customers?

DH: We do have people holding on to their vehicles. Early on in the year (2009), all of the conversion manufacturers were hurting to different degrees. It’s a tough economy, and that’s an area that gets hit. That’s an area where you can make another repair and just hang onto your vehicle a little bit longer. As with almost every bad economic situation, people were hanging onto their vehicles, and that includes mobility vehicles.

MM: Did mobility dealers see more demand for repairs or service on consumers’ older vehicles?

DH: I think we got a lot of that. By and large, I think the NMEDA dealers have been surviving the recession fairly well. I hear from some that they were down for certain parts of the year (2009), but it’s not been a consistent thing. Some people are down one part of the year, some people are down another part of the year, but then they’re back up. I heard from one guy who’s having (in 2009) the best fourth quarter of his entire career. You wonder how that can happen, but it is happening. Mobility seems to be bearing up fairly well.

MM: Let’s switch gears to the upcoming NMEDA conference, Feb. 10-12, in Reno, Nev. Judging from the agenda, NMEDA has been working hard on the conference’s educational components.

DH:We’ve beefed up our effort for our professional and our associate members.We’ve actually got associate sessions for people that are CDRS’s — Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialists.We’ve got (sessions for) CAMS HP, which stands for Comprehensive Automotive Mobility Solutions for Healthcare Professionals, and that’s a full-day course that actually gets continuing education units for CDRS’s and AOTA (American Occupational Therapy Association) members, and California and Nevada physical therapists.

MM: It sounds as if NMEDA’s 2010 conference is aiming to be a “onestop” event for all professionals who work with adaptive automotive clients.

DH: That’s really the objective. The industry works as a team, always has and hopefully always will. I think NMEDA needs to step up to that a little bit. Our conference committee went through that this year, and they discussed it. They decided that was the right thing to do, so that’s what we did. We’ve also got some things going for our dealers that are great. There’s some customer management seminars on putting in customer management systems — in our industry, I won’t say they’re way behind the curve, but they’re not as up to speed as they are, say, in the automotive industry. So we’re going to get them educated on that, give them more in the marketing realm, keep our OEM suppliers involved so they can have their forum. It promises to be a really good conference. In fact, at the moment, we’re running ahead of last year in exhibitors and people who are signing up to attend. This year, a lot of associations are experiencing fall-off to the degree of 50 percent in membership and conference attendance. So we’re feeling very fortunate, indeed.

MM: NMEDA has also been working on its Web site over the past year, and consumer education seems to be a major topic on the site now.

DH: We’re trying to let people know that we exist, and that we are a strong resource for finding a good, solid, reliable outlet for mobility equipment, not just from our NMEDA dealers, but our QAP (Quality Assurance Program) dealers, as well.

We’re going to be embarking on programs in the coming year, to be announced at our conference, that will include expanding marketing programs that will reach out to the consumer and let them know who we are and what we are, and what NMEDA is all about.We’re really excited about that, because it’s the first time that it’s ever happened for NMEDA like this.

There are so many people out there that could use help and don’t even know that the help exists. And that’s kind of a shame. People who have been in an accident or have an issue where they end up in a wheelchair — they generally will find help somehow, mostly because they go to great lengths to seek it out. But people who are, for example, growing into their disabilities — arthritis, age, or something to that effect — could end up disabled and not being able to get around. They could virtually become a shut-in because they just don’t know where to go or where to turn to try to correct some of that.

It’s not necessarily (a lack of) financial resources; it’s informational resources. If somebody needed help because their legs weren’t moving properly anymore or something like that – there are hand controls. These people don’t know about it because they’ve never been educated to that. If they’re getting weak in their upper-extremities — they have control, but they’re just weak — there are low-resistance steering controls that are available. There are solutions out there; it’s just that people need to know about it.

Becoming a resource for consumers allows NMEDA the opportunity to direct consumers to NMEDA member stores, and for all the right reasons. If a dealer has gone through the time and expense to become QAP and they’re a good, strong dealer, they deserve to be recognized for their efforts. So we’re trying to support our membership that way, and hopefully, it will help grow their businesses as well.


NHTSA Web Site Offers Resources for Older Drivers

The natural aging process can make driving a challenge – but that’s no reason for seniors to give up their independence. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Web site offers a range of resources and advice for drivers who are getting older.

Among the offerings: Adapting Motor Vehicles for Older Drivers, a downloadable handbook that discusses driver and passenger assessment and the adaptive automotive equipment that can help. This pdf handbook includes information on mobility dealers and the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association (NMEDA).

Also available on the Older Drivers page: downloadable booklets that discuss how a variety of medical conditions can affect driving, and how drivers and caregivers can compensate safely. Topics covered in the “Driving When You Have…” series include arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, stroke and sleep apnea.

The Older Drivers page contains a special section called Resources for People Around Older Drivers.

Senior Drivers Can Self-Assess with AAA Roadwise Review

Just as physicians recommend annual physical exams, the Automobile Club of America (AAA) suggests that seniors use its Roadwise Review program annually to self-assess many driving-related skills, including seeing in low light, flexibility and visual acuity.

Roadwise Review is an online, interactive program that gives drivers the ability to assess their own skills in the privacy of their own homes…and at their own pace. People taking the Roadwise Review course can pause the program as needed to take a break or review instructions.

Says AAA, “The good news is that, once identified, many driver-safety issues related to physiological changes can be addressed so drivers can continue to drive safely.” The program gives advice on how to compensate for changes in vision, for example.

Roadwise Review is available for $5 to AAA members and $7 for non-members…but AAA has also distributed free copies to senior centers and city and county libraries. For more information on Roadwise Review, go to aaa.com, then search for “Roadwise Review.”

AARP Safety Program Targets Older Drivers

Many seniors with encroaching mobility issues don’t work with physical or occupational therapists — which means they may not know how to adapt their driving habits, and they might be unaware that adaptive automotive products can help them to maintain their independence and improve their safety.

If your older customers are looking for support, let them know about AARP’s Driver Safety Program. By going to aarp.org/families/driver_safety, seniors can access advice on common driving issues, such as driving at night or with reduced visibility, driving in bad weather, how medications can affect driving skills, and knowing when to limit driving.

There’s also advice for family members who are concerned about the driving habits of an aging loved one. (And the advice goes beyond “Take away the keys”; the Web site also suggests driving courses especially designed for seniors.)

InterMotive Passes ISO Audit

InterMotive has passed its ISO 9001:2000 recertification audit, the company has announced.

The recertification audit follows InterMotive’s original ISO certification, which came in April 2007.

The company, based in Colfax, Calif., designs and manufactures vehicle control systems for the transit, school bus, personal vehicle, work truck and emergency response markets.

This article originally appeared in the DRIVE! NMEDA Handbook: February 2010 issue of Mobility Management.

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