He’s wheel­ing and able

Aussie me­chanic and cute Toy­otas make life bet­ter for the dis­abled

The Courier-Mail - Motoring - - CAR NEWS -

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

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