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The Callum eVita concept is a fresher, more dignified take on wheelchair travel

How do you welcome wheelchair users into the world of EVs with open arms? By utilising a fresh, youthful outlook

Published: 21 Mar 2024

“A bit like luggage.” How some wheelchair users are left feeling by the current crop of vehicles designed to mobilise them. So say the young designers at Callum who’ve helped pen this new eVita, a concept that envisages a newly inclusive form of electric transport. So much more than a converted Caddy, it represents a tie-up between Motability Operations and Callum with the intention of shaking up an arguably undernourished corner of the car market.

“Today, electric vehicles are not offering the functionality and flexibility required by WAV (Wheelchair Accessible Vehicle) users,” says Ian Callum, design director.

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“The transition to electric simply won’t work unless it’s accessible for all,” adds Andrew Miller, chief executive of Motability Operations. “We have the largest fleet in the UK and three quarters of a million disabled customers who rely on their vehicles for their independence.

“Our customers aren’t the typical early EV adopters, they’re more representative of the wider population, and we know from first-hand insight what the challenges of having an EV will be for everyone. Without solutions and an equitable switch to electric, thousands of people could be left behind.”

Motability currently has 34,000 WAVs on the road and knows their replacements won’t swallow up batteries as simply as some conventional ICE designs have; rethinking a fully electric WAV has allowed them, via the youthful eyes and hands at Callum, to tear up the paper and start again entirely.

Which is probably why the eVita looks so appealing. At 4.5m long and 1.9m wide, it fits into a smaller footprint than many existing WAVs and will slot into a space as easily as a Qashqai, doing so with neat and appealing lines and a bespoke look rarely (if ever) afforded to users in this market. Naturally it needs space behind it for wheelchairs to enter and exit, which is why LED puddle lighting casts a logo onto the tarmac behind to ‘reserve’ the space. A split rear tailgate with an extending ramp also makes user ingress and egress much simpler.

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Once inside, all passengers enjoy similar ride height – a point of contention raised by many wheelchair users interviewed by Callum’s team – while those sat in the rear have full access to climate and infotainment controls plus a bunch of storage and device charging solutions via the eVita’s ‘utility bar’. Ride height in general is kept akin to a regular hatchback’s despite a 50kWh battery – good for around 200 miles of range – being stored in the floor. ‘Highly damped rear suspension’ is intended to tidy up handling with the end goal of optimal comfort aboard the eVita. A pair of charging ports at different ends of the vehicle increase its flexibility further.

Many of the inventive ideas have spawned from a pair of university graduates who are currently on paid year-long placements at Callum. Glasgow student Zoe Graham (23) and Coventry graduate Yikuan Zhang (25) have worked alongside Motability to bring the eVita to life.

“I have no experience designing cars, but I have experience in using engineering to solve problems,” Zoe tells TopGear.com. “We’re getting a full spectrum of what Callum does during this internship; we’re actually doing work that will be useful for the project and which might be used in a final product.”

Together, Zoe and Yikuan’s lavish sketches have drawn a world where wheelchair users travel with more dignity – and less like luggage. “We’ve got the chance to be involved in the full production process of the car,” smiles Yikuan. “Interns are usually quite hard to involve in big decisions but here we’re given the chance.”

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