The little van with a big heart!

The Nissan NV200 is a surprising little van that has a remarkable amount of internal space. It gives the impression of being a small vehicle, and in comparison with most of the other vans out there, it is small.

It is 400mm shorter and 200mm narrower than the Mercedes Vito, but the important measurement for any passenger in a wheelchair is the internal roof height, where at 1300mm it is 40mm higher than the Vito and 60mm higher than the VW Caddy. These may sound like small difference, but when finding the perfect solution for transporting a person in their wheelchair, it is the extra millimeters that make all the difference.

Hendrick Hamersma discovered the NV200 soon after it was launched at the end of 2013. He knew immediately it was the perfect vehicle for them. His wife, Gonda, is a quadriplegic and they had been managing with a Honda FRV, however the transfers in and out of the Honda were starting to damage his back. He had been hunting for a suitable van that she could be transported in her wheelchair, but the price of the bigger vans was out of his budget. Gonda’s height in her wheelchair is 1250mm and the internal height of the NV200 gives her 50mm clearance. The only downside is that she finds that she cannot see out of the windows very far as she sits higher than someone on the seat.

The other significant figure is the price tag, starting at R264 800 for the passenger Combi version, with the disability rebate it works out to approximately R220 000. This is a lot more affordable than any other van on the market that offers comparable internal space. It is currently available in a 1.6 liter petrol or the 1.5 liter turbo diesel engine. Unfortunately it is only available in a manual version, so it is only a solution for passengers in wheelchairs. The NV200 Combi is a 7 seater. It comes standard with a bench seat in the middle of the vehicle which can easily be folded forward to create space at the rear, and it has two fold up chairs at the back which can be flipped up to each side.

Hendrick is delighted with the NV200, he loves the driving position and the design of the vehicle gives great visibility. He finds it a pleasure to drive around town, it is economical to run and is has a low monthly insurance rate, helping to keep the running costs of the vehicle very affordable. He does a lot of carpentry work so having the extra space for transporting wood and furniture also works well for him. He finds the floor height the perfect height for loading heavy objects. Here again the NV200 dimensions is a winner for transporting passengers in wheelchairs, as it has the lowest floor height out of all the vans on the market, at a height of 480mm it is 50mm lower than the VW Kombi and Caravelle and 120mm lower than the Transporter. This means that it is far easier to use a ramp to push the wheelchair into the vehicle, thus keeping the conversion costs down, instead of having to fit a lift.

Pitta Joffe lives with Huntingtons’ Chorea. This is a rapidly degenerating disease. She started having difficulty with her walking about 2 years ago and within less than a year she was wheelchair dependent and not even able to do a standing transfer any more. This made it really difficult for her husband to transfer her into their Landrover Defender as it was really high to get her in and out of the vehicle. As a result she quickly became confined to their home, as visits and outings became an impossible task.

Her husband, Leon, happened to notice the NV 200 Combi on the showroom floor when his Landrover was in for repairs, and immediately recognized it as a possible solution for their situation. The first thing he did was open up the boot and start measuring whether Pitta and her wheelchair would fit inside it. He wasn’t worried about the motor size or any other features, all that mattered was whether Pitta would fit in the vehicle in her wheelchair. His next step was to find out where to get it converted. He tracked down Shoprider in Centurion and they decided that the most convenient versus affordable solution was to put in a lightweight, fold out FEAL Ramp with an aluminium floor for ease of maneuvering the wheelchair inside the vehicle and a set of wheelchair restraints to secure the wheelchair and Pitta.

It was such a privilege to witness the vehicle being delivered to Pitta. From the moment that she saw it arrive she just beamed with joy. She was wheeled into the vehicle, the height was perfect – she did not even need to duck her head coming through the doorway – admittedly she is fairly short. Her first planned trip was to go and buy two towels – which seems such a simple task for most people, but without her new wheels it was something that she was unable to do.

The space inside the NV200 makes it possible for most wheelchair passengers - except those who are really tall - to turn it into a wheelchair accessible vehicle without huge costs. Both Pitta and Gonda sit on the left of the vehicle and the right hand seat can remain in the vehicle so that their care attendants can travel right next to them in the vehicle.

The NV200 safety systems include ABS as standard with Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist (BA) to increase braking when necessary and maximize stability. In addition, protection is enhanced with the fitting as standard of driver and front passenger airbags (forward, side and curtain), as well as seatbelt pretensioners and Electronic Stability Protection (ESP).