He’s wheeling and able
Aussie mechanic and cute Toyotas make life better for the disabled
At the time, Palmer had a couple of wheelchairbound customers who often needed repairs to their carrying systems, which lift the chair on to the roof of the car. He found these were not unreliable and could be hard to use.
‘‘ I remember seeing the Porte when I went back in 2005 and thinking, ‘ Gee that’d be good for Australia’, ’’ Palmer says. ‘‘ It’s not too big, it’s affordable, practical, economical, and has fully automated wheelchair access. The chair goes in and out at push of a button.’’
Built on a Yaris platform, the Porte is rebodied for extra height and fitted with an
electric sliding passenger door and a mechanical or electric lifting mechanism. Its beauty lies not only in keeping the person in their own chair and eliminating the need to pack it away, but also in sitting them up front, unlike most other vehicles.
‘‘ People like to be in the front of the car; to turn the radio on, talk face-to-face, adjust their own seat,’’ Palmer says. ‘‘ It’s a big part of keeping their independence, which is so important.’’
Getting Japanese domestic market cars that had never been exported into Australia was tricky and time-consuming. After 18 months and with about $110,000 of his own money, he wrangled approval to bring in a test vehicle. The production cars finally arrived in 2008.
The three Porte models range from $25,000 to $45,000, with the main difference being the wheelchair mechanism. The fully automated $45,000 model is the most popular by far.
Sales reached 19 last year and look set to climb. More details: alpalmer.com.
Lift-off: Al Palmer and wife Vina show off the device