Volkswagen best kept secret

When Jackie van Zyl saw a photo of the converted Volkswagen Caddy in an international magazine, she knew immediately that it was the ideal solution for her husband, Kobus. Being an employee of Volkswagen, she also knew who the right people were to speak to. Even so, it took some perseverance before she received the go-ahead from Volkswagen. She recognized the potential of this vehicle and what a difference it would make in her life, and she was determined to make it happen.

Kobus took a bullet to the head during an armed robbery at their home eight years ago. He saved Jackie’s life but it has left him blind and quadriplegic. Jackie has a challenging time caring for him, and one of her main problems was transporting him.

She initially had a Volkswagen Kombi with ramps, but she had to push him up and down the ramps to get him inside the vehicle, no easy task for anyone as the height of the Kombi means that the ramps either have to be very long or very steep. Jackie is small and Kobus is big!! His size also makes it difficult for her to transfer him onto a car seat.

The Volkswagen Caddy opens a new level of convenience in vehicles for transporting people in their wheelchairs. It is small and light on fuel when compared with vans. No longer is it necessary to drive around in a large van, which used to be the one and only solution and Volkswagen now offers this fully imported, converted vehicle to our South African market.

This conversion is done in Germany by AMF Bruns (www.amf-bruns.de)and includes lowered suspension, a tailgate ramp, the wheelchair restraint system as well as floor cutout.

The suspension drops the back of the vehicle for loading, reducing the height of the floor. This makes for a shorter ramp with a reasonable gradient. The shortest possible ramp is essential for rear entry vehicles as South African style parking bays means people are often off-loaded in a moving traffic zone. After loading the suspension returns to normal height.

The ramp can also either be manually opened and closed or electronically controlled and even little Jackie finds the manual gate no problem for her to manage.

The floor inside is cut out and lowered without affecting the ground clearance of the vehicle. The passenger restraint systems used by AMF Bruns all comply with EU and SABS specifications. The front wheelchair restraint straps are fitted to the wheelchair before it is moved into the vehicle. This simplifies the tie down process as you do not have to try to climb over the occupant to strap down the front of the chair.

The Caddy Life is designed to be the ultimate multi-tasker - part sedan, part hatch, a little estate, and of course, a bit of bus, but with a touch of comfort. It is available with a 1.6i petrol engine or a 1.9 turbo diesel engine and provides a lot of space, with a wheelbase of over 2.6 metres.

The 7-seater Caddy Maxi boasts a longer wheelbase and extended rear overhang, with a wheelbase of 3.0 meters.

The economic 1.9 TDI has an expected fuel consumption of 7.5l/100kms around town, dropping to 5.3l/100kms on the open road. All models are currently only available with a 5-speed manual gearbox.

The prices range from R232,700 up to R261,100 for the 1.9Tdi Maxi. Optional extras will increase the price. The conversion price fluctuates depending on exchange rates and the selected configuration, but can be expected to fall between R80,000 to R100,000.

To order a converted Caddy contact your local Volkswagen branch.
For more information on the conversions that are available, contact Buli Gongxeka at the VWSA, Special Markets department on 011-203-2762.

When transporting a person in their wheelchair inside a vehicle, they are a lot more sensitive to the movements of the vehicle, particularly changes in speed and direction and bumps. As a result the vehicle has to be driven slowly and carefully, predicting when these changes will occur. Unfortunately South African drivers have little tolerance for vehicles driven in this manner.

Jackie found journeys stressful due to the aggression and impatience shown towards her, until she put this sticker on the vehicle. What a sad reflection on the empathy and understanding of the general population towards disability.

A Cheaper Option

A similar conversion can be done by Easy Drive Western Cape (021-855-2640), where they also lower the floor and fit a ramp. They do not fit the lowering suspension, which means that a longer ramp is required to access the vehicle. They have developed a docking station that the wheelchair clamps into, which reduces the number of straps to be attached to the chair. The seatbelt is adapted to restrain the user. The conversion costs about R50 000.

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