Shared Transportation: WHILL Merges with Scootaround

WHILL, manufacturer of personal power mobility devices — and, at one time, a device classified by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration as a power wheelchair — has merged with Scootaround, a mobility rental company and consumer mobility dealer.

WHILL and Scootaround went public with merger news on Aug. 20, but the news announcement noted that the two companies had “joined forces” last fall.

At the heart of the merger is both companies’ interest in what Kerry Renaud, CEO and Managing Director of Scootaround, referred to as “Mobility-as-a-Service” (MaaS) — basically, an expansion of the short-term scooter and consumer power chair rental business.

In comments made to Mobility Management, Renaud referenced shared transportation companies such as Uber, Lyft, and Lime while explaining WHILL and Scootaround’s strategic vision.

Renaud said, “With the shift in the transportation industry moving towards more shared transportation models due to options provided by Uber, Lyft, Lime, etc., we believe that people are often looking for a quick and easy-to-use transportation option as opposed to owning their own cars, bikes, scooters, etc. Our long-term vision of our MaaS model is intended to provide people with less mobility an option that would otherwise only be available to those who are more able bodied.”

Retirement of Model M Power Chair

WHILL’s first personal mobility device was its Model A, which was not classified as a power wheelchair. The manufacturer’s second device — Model M — was defined as a power wheelchair and required a physician’s prescription to obtain.

Despite that requirement, Model M was more like a consumer power chair in its functionality: It did not offer tilt, recline, or any other powered seating options. The chair did offer backrest options and joystick options for users needing enhanced hand or arm support, though Model M did not accommodate alternative driving controls.

WHILL discontinued Model M in March. The brief notice of that discontinuation that appears on the WHILL Web site said, “The Model A has similar features to Model M, including seat slide, three speeds, all-wheel drive, and the ability to handle rough terrain with ease.”

Renaud said the decision to obsolete the Model M was unrelated to WHILL and Scootaround’s focus on shared transportation business models.

“The Model M was developed, with slight modifications to our Model A, as an option that WHILL would be able to offer for users purchasing equipment with the aid of insurance in the U.S. market,” Renaud said. “Unfortunately, our customers were finding the process to apply and qualify for insurance coverage on the Model M quite challenging and therefore was not a successful implementation for WHILL. We are still offering the Model A in the U.S., but have moved to a strictly [cash-] based purchasing model. Some of our customers have had some success through workers compensation, private insurers, Veterans Affairs, etc., but at this point we are not looking to re-enter the insurance-based market. The decision to discontinue sales of the Model M was unrelated to our MaaS business model.”

Rental Market vs. Ownership

While Scootaround is best known for its rental sales, including rentals that target visitors to popular tourist destinations, Renaud said that the remaining WHILL devices — Models A and Ci — would continue to be available for purchase as well as for rental.

“The rental market, while an important aspect of moving towards our MaaS initiative, is only one part of the business,” Renaud noted. “WHILL will continue to provide devices for all segments — rental, B2B, and direct to consumers through our network of dealers, which includes Scootaround — with enhanced capabilities as a result of this merger.

“Selling to individual users has been and will remain a key channel for the WHILL products. The Model Ci and Model A are two innovative products currently available to individual users, and we have some exciting, innovative products in the pipeline. New, innovative products related to mobility will continue to be available through all of our channels.”

But with the Model M now in the past, is it safe to say that WHILL is done with the complex rehab industry?

“WHILL is driven by innovation and aspires to bring new, unique devices to the mobility market for those that need it on a part-time as well as those who depend on them on a full-time basis,” Renaud said. “For anyone with a condition that requires a full-time device, we do recommend they seek advice from a healthcare professional, or more specifically a seating specialist, to ensure that the device will meet all of their needs. We do have some consumers that rely on complex rehab power chairs for full-time use; however, they own and use a Ci as their travel chair, or when needing to handle some rougher terrains.”

About the Author

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

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