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The Elbee is a weird vehicle. It opens from the front, and you don’t climb in, but ride straight into it with a wheelchair. The small car is one of the first vehicles made solely for disabled drivers.
The car is the brainchild of Czech businessman Ladislav Brázdil. When he began his manufacturing company, Brázdil decided to follow his dream of creating his own product: an urban micro-car designed specifically for drivers in a wheelchair. “This was it,” says Brázdil. “It was something unique that we as an engineering business could produce.”
The first model went to market at the end of 2014 and the historic first customer was František Trunda, who had lost both legs below the hips. For him the car has provided a renewed sense of freedom.
“It has changed my life,” he says. “I can now go for a drive out of town or go to see my brother. I don’t have to wait until someone has time to go with me.”
This direct driver access to the vehicle was a fundamental principle of the whole project. Ordinary vehicles that are adapted do not resolve the problem of what to do with the wheelchair, if there is nobody there to help the disabled driver stow it away.
A major advantage of front-end opening is that wheelchair users can park the car facing the footpath. If they have rear-end opening they can reverse up to the curb, but for many wheelchair users, this is a very complex operation, especially if they have restricted neck movement.
With face-forward parking, the driver can see where to release the wheelchair ramp so as to ride out of the car safely, among pedestrians on the footpath, and not on to the road.
One limiting factor and a risk for the project, specifically in the Czech market, is the price of the car. The current price is 600 thousand CZK (nearly €23,000), and although the price can be cut thanks to various subsidies and reliefs, it is often still cheaper for wheelchair users to modify a normal car.
However, Brázdil’s son explains that the family are inspired by more than money.
“We’re making something that’s really emotive,” says Ladislav Brázdil Junior, “and this inspires us to continue the project. We’ve had reactions from people saying that thanks to the Elbee they’re now learning to drive and they are regaining strength and ability. In our small way we’re restoring their lives.”
Jana Klímová and Magdaléna Fajtová’s article was written for the Czech news magazine Respekt