One of the most popular import minivans recently made its accessibility debut. The adapted Honda Odyssey began limited production with Phoenix-based Vantage Mobility International (VMI) in July 2006 after a two-year negotiation with Honda.
The Honda Odyssey — which boasts a large following of consumers loyal to the brand and numerous awards including Consumer Report’s Best Buy Minivan for 2007 — joins Toyota in the import segment of adapted vehicles.
Currently, the demand for adapted Honda Odysseys is around 2,000 per year, says Doug Eaton, president and CEO of VMI. He estimates that more than 50 percent of the minivan sector belongs to imports in the mainstream market.
“If the mobility market mirrors the mainstream market, then there’s capacity for even more than 2,000 per year,” he says.
Despite the huge demand for an adapted Honda minivan, VMI encountered a few obstacles before finally closing the deal. Eaton says the major hurdle was the Odyssey’s independent wishbone suspension, which made lowering the floor and installing in-floor ramps problematic.
“The day that Honda finally got really excited about this project and allowed us to go to the business group was when our engineers showed them that we could integrate our lowered floor and our kneeling, and our electrical, gas systems and fuel and exhaust into their ride and handling,” says Eaton.
Another design component that makes the Odyssey notable is its roomy interior.
“One and two inches of separation is huge for a wheelchair,” says Eaton, “and our floor is 5.5 inches longer than the Toyota. It’s also got a 55-inch door opening, which is huge, because there are many quadriplegics that can’t bend their necks. (As a result) they can’t get into a Chrysler or a Ford or a Toyota that all have 53 to 54 inches of door opening height.”
Honda’s insistence on quality in ride and handling also created other challenges in the VMI negotiations.
“Honda does not make fleet sales possible,” explains Eaton.
VMI had to ensure that a mobility fleet would respect the integrity of the Honda brand and meet the consumer demand for quality. As a result, VMI has passed Honda’s strict standards onto its dealers.
“From the very first meeting, even though the engineers were very particular and very detailed, they expressed (from) day 1 that the president of American Honda had sanctioned this product and wanted to be in this market because they have a high regard for humanitarian causes,” says Eaton. “Their societal emphasis is really important; it’s in their mission statement. They really want to do the right thing. So, they felt even though there were hurdles with the design and there were hurdles with the supply and hurdles with the warranty and how that was all going to work, they still got behind the program and put resources behind it and made it happen.”
The first Honda Odyssey Northstar conversion vans began shipping to mobility dealers nationwide Oct. 10. Full production of the adapted line began in December 2006.
For more information, visit www.vantagemobility.com.