Permobil Signs Deal to Rep MAX Mobility’s SmartDrive Power-Assist

Permobil has begun representing MAX Mobility’s SmartDrive power-assist system, said Todd Walling, senior VP of sales for North America.

In a conversation with Mobility Management, Walling called the partnership “a little different” than recent Permobil announcements about other manufacturers. The Lebanon, Tenn.-based complex rehab power wheelchair company announced it had purchased ROHO Inc. last spring, and TiLite in the spring of 2014.

A New Kind of Partnership

“We reached an agreement with MAX Mobility to represent the SmartDrive product line, and we will be working in partnership with their current independent groups to represent SmartDrive effective [in January],” Walling said. “It’s not going to be distributed through Permobil. This is a non-exclusive representation agreement. This is a first for Permobil and perhaps the industry, where you have a direct sales force partnering up with an independent sales force to represent a certain product line.”

Walling acknowledged that Permobil has been interested in MAX Mobility for awhile: “When we acquired TiLite, we immediately noticed the SmartDrive product. When it first came out, we admired its simplicity and its ease of use for consumers, and when we acquired TiLite, a lot of us pointed to that as a key accessory that we would like to promote.

“We see the benefits of power assist, and 75 percent of manual wheelchairs experience shoulder pain and qualify for a power-assist at some point in their lives. We believe that this product will benefit users of manual wheelchairs and make them more efficient, healthier and happier.”

While Walling stated Permobil was not acquiring MAX Mobility, he said Permobil's owner, Investor AB, is not done buying companies in the complex rehab space.

“Investor looks at other areas within complex rehab technology, and I think when we announced the TiLite acquisition and the ROHO acquisition, we were looking at filling holes in our product line. So I certainly expect to see more product lines added to the Permobil family. We feel like we have to be a complete CRT company, and certainly having power chairs, manual chairs and cushions is a big part of it. But there are other areas of complex rehab that we’re not in, and we’re investigating how to get into those — and if we do it through acquisition or we develop it ourselves.”

A New SmartDrive

MAX Mobility President Mark Richter, Walling said, was scheduled to meet with Permobil’s sales force at the manufacturer’s annual sales meeting, and SmartDrive demo units would be distributed. Permobil’s sales reps will be working with MAX Mobility’s new MX2 unit, designed to require less fine-motor control than the original MX1 model. The MX2 is a self-contained unit, with no separate external battery pack. A wristband worn by the wheelchair user communicates via Bluetooth technology with the MX2. The wheelchair user presses a button on the wristband to activate the MX2, then pushes on the pushrim to go. A light pat on the pushrim, followed by holding the pushrim in the normal braking motion, stops the unit’s motor.

These changes make the MX2 easier to use for consumers who have quadriplegia or other fine-motor control challenges.

“We think it fits beautifully with the TiLite product line,” Walling said. “I’ve always thought this was an amazing product.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at lwatanabe@1105media.com.

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