Wheelchair users slide into driver’s seat of pickup

FARGO, N.D. — Wheelchair-bound farmers can now trade that weakling minivan for a wheelchair accessible three quarter ton, 4×4 pickup.

GoShichi has converted a four-wheel drive Chevrolet Silverado pickup to be wheelchair accessible.

The truck is extensively modified so the two left side doors open straight out 36 inches, allowing the wheelchair platform to slide into the up-down position.

The normal opening swing for a pick-up truck door is 36 inches, so GoShichi should be parking lot friendly as long as it’s not parked too close to neighbouring vehicles.

The idea for a wheelchair accessible four-wheel drive pickup came from mechanical engineer Steve Kitchin, who became a quadriplegic in a 1999 vehicle crash.

“After seven or eight years of driving minivans, he was fed up and decided he needed a four-wheel drive pickup,” said Jay Bohlman, the GoShichi dealer in Moorhead, Minnesota.

Kitchin soon learned there was no such thing as a wheelchair accessible pickup, regardless of the price. The obstacle was the requirement to pass all three federal crash tests.

Every new or structurally modified vehicle sold in the United States has to pass the 35 m.p.h. front impact test, the 33.5 m.p.h. side impact test and the 50 m.p.h. rear impact test.

“I’ve watched a number of companies attempting to build wheelchair accessible pickups over the years,” said Bohlman, a mobility consultant in the business of finding equipment to meet the needs of physically handicapped people.

“But they don’t pass the crash tests so they can’t come to market. This is the only truck to pass all three crashes. Not only that, it held together so well they were able to use the same truck in all three crashes.”

Built to ruin

The crash test dummies in the Go-Shichi crash tests sat in normal wheelchairs with the normal wheelchair wheel locks and seatbelts in place.

“Getting through the crash tests is a very expensive ordeal,” said Bohlman. “You pay to build a prototype, then pay the federal government to wreck it for you, and they keep all the parts. You can’t even salvage a tail light lens. Right now, GoShichi has only tested the GM truck. Next they’ll do Ford, Dodge, Toyota and some of the others.”

The GoShichi Chevy passed the tests in March and quickly went into production. Bohlman said the other truck brands will likely be similar to the Chevy modification.

The body is lifted and the frame is notched out and re-enforced so the floor can be lowered to accommodate the height of the wheelchair and elevator mechanism. Lift capacity is 750 pounds.

The heavy steel plate floor is six inches lower than the original floor, which puts the driver in the correct position for the steering wheel, mirrors, controls, airbags and seatbelts.

“The doors are welded together and attached to a heavy duty activator bar, which moves them in and out. Once the doors are in the out position, the platform lowers itself to the ground.”

A docking device locks the wheelchair to the platform. It accommodates wheelchairs up to 28 inches wide.

Kitchin and his engineers did not want to use hydraulics to move the components. Leaks would create a mess and could immobilize the system. As well, hydraulics go dead if the engine quits.

They opted for an all-electric system. If the engine should happen to stop, there would be enough reserve capacity in the battery to work the system.

If the entire electrical system went dead, it’s a matter of putting a ratchet at the end of the shafts to manually run it through the automatic cycle.

The system employs two linear actuator screw drive motors, one for vertical movement and one for horizontal.

The finished truck still has room for five passengers. For the wheelchair driver, it has 54 inches of headroom entering the vehicle and 57 inches of headroom once inside the cab.

“Rather than go through truck dealers, we’ve worked out an arrangement with the automotive branch of Shoppers Drug. This branch specializes in mobility mechanisms like this. I believe we’ve signed up 19 Shoppers Drug outlets across Canada that have an automotive branch,” said Kitchin.

Kitchin said all GoShichi dealers and installers are members of and adhere to the standards of the National Mobility Equipment Dealers Association.

The list price for GoShichi on an extended cab is $26,000 US plus the truck and $28,000 US for a crew cab plus truck.

For more information, contact Jay Bohlman at 218-233-8681 or www.bertsmobility.com and Steve Kitchin at 260-434-4777 or www.goshichi.com.

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