February 13th, 2014 by Sandy Dechert
More than three million Americans can celebrate when they hear this story. Made in the USA but in demand worldwide, the Kenguru—a driver-only electric vehicle with no seats—promises mobility-challenged people unprecedented access to the everyday world the rest of us take for granted.
Imagine you can’t jump into a car quickly when it is raining, are unable to ride a bike, and most public transportation is not accessible to you. Transportation is a huge obstacle for people who use wheelchairs. It is often time-consuming, physically difficult, expensive, or just unavailable. This results in a disconnect from the community, an inability to work, and a lower quality of life…. Can you imagine having to depend on someone every time you wanted to leave your house?
The design of the Kenguru (Hungarian for “kangaroo” and pronounced the same) allows mobility-limited people to drive a car solely from their wheelchairs. The alternative, outfitting a van for wheelchair accessibility, costs over three times as much as the Kenguru price tag of $25,000—and that’s without zero-emission EV or vocational rehab incentives. Short neighborhood trips to places like a convenience store, park, or nearby mall are the Kenguru’s specialty. It’s over a foot shorter than the smart fortwo.
The Kenguru allows drivers to get into the car and drive without leaving the wheelchair. To enter the vehicle, the driver pushes a button and remotely opens the back (only) door. (No room for passengers.) A ramp comes down. Wheel the chair in and drive the car. Lock it when you stop. The current model has motorcycle bars for handling and is designed for manual wheelchair-users like people with MS, who have upper body strength. A joystick-steering model is in development for people who use electric wheelchairs. Says one of the company founders:
“It basically extends the range of a wheelchair. Me, I can go maybe a mile in my chair out in the elements. Now I can go 20 miles and be protected from the rain and the sun. It’s not a car—it’s an expansion of your independence.”
Istvan Kissaroslaki, a Hungarian-born, American-educated veteran of the European auto industry and a company specializing in handicapped mobility equipment, developed the Kenguru. The collapse of Lehman Brothers blindsided his venture before manufacturing could start. Enter Stacy Zoern, a lawyer from Pflugerville, Texas, who has spinal muscular atrophy, a genetic neuromuscular disorder. Zoern has never walked. Together, they started small-scale production in Pflugerville and then formed Community Cars, based in Austin.
Thirty investors and $4 million later, they put the first Kengurus on the road.
maximum speed: 28 mph
range: about 60 miles
slope tolerance: up to 20% gradients
two 2-kW motors on rear axle
charging time: 8 hours
body: fiberglass laminate
interior: vinyl and molded plastic
According to PVA magazine, “The Kenguru has received a positive and strong response at trade shows around the world.” Community Cars has logged about six hundred orders so far.
The pitch is simple and alluring:
The KENGURU® gives you the independence you have been looking for! Whether it is commuting to and from work, visiting family and relatives, or just meeting up with some friends to have fun, the KENGURU® will help you to do it on your own.
Kissaroslaki and Zoern are aiming for 400 vehicles in the first year of production and 2,500 a year from then on. NW Autos says three potential dealers have been established in the United States, all of them in Florida, as well as one each in Britain, France, Germany, and Spain. The company is just setting up its own website and is still seeking investments and contributions, from $25 to $50,000 and more, for further development of the joystick model and other tweaks.
Keep up to date with all the most interesting green news on the planet by subscribing to our (free) Planetsave newsletter.