ZEV debuts an affordable ride-in nano-van for wheelchair users
Plucky West Virginian EV company ZEV has announced what it claims is a radically more affordable ride-in vehicle for wheelchair users than anything else on the market. This US$9,900 ZEV 511 is a fully-enclosed urban getabout with a practical range.
ZEV has a bit of history in terms of these little enclosed micro-cars – we covered its T3-1 Micro three-wheeler back in 2017, for example, which somehow fits three people or 360 pounds of cargo into an even smaller space.
The new 511 Wheelchair Conversion is focused entirely on being the perfect little getabout for wheelchair users – particularly those in heavy, electric chairs.
As such, there's no seat installed. The back of this nano-van opens automatically by remote control, the lower part resting on the ground to form a checkerplate ramp. Users roll themselves up to the front of the vehicle and lock their chair in, giving them access to a full set of hand controls.
ZEV's Darius Zehrbach told us that each vehicle will need to be made to order, since different chairs will need different interior treatments, but this also gives people the ability to specify things like whether they want a steering wheel or a handlebar in the cockpit.
Otherwise, it's pretty basic – although there are headlights, blinkers, central locking, power windows, disc brakes, a heater and a twin-fan cooling system for some airflow through the roof scoop when you're stuck in traffic on a hot day. A "crawler" gear gives the 3/6-kW electric motor a way to get itself up very steep inclines.
A 60-V, 80-A, 4.8-kWh caustic silicate lead battery pack gives the 511 a 100 km (62 mile) estimated range, enough to handle commuting and urban getabout duties. Zehrbach told us that the people he's been talking to "never want to go to a charging station, just charge at home from a normal wall outlet," so there's no fast charging, and a full top-up will take around five hours.
The 511 weighs around 400 kg (882 lb), and it's rated for a maximum load of 300 kg (661 lb). Since it runs four wheels, it can't be registered as a motorcycle. But ZEV says it qualifies as a FDA medical device, and should be usable in the United States as an "other power-driven mobility device," or OPDMD. This restricts top speed to 45-50 km/h (28-31 mph).
ZEV has kept this machine reasonably bare-bones to make sure it's able to sell the thing at an accessible price, starting at $9,900. Zehrbach told us owners should be able to keep it on the road for about $400 a year – and that includes electricity bills and full coverage insurance – as well as a sinking fund to replace tires as necessary, and to replace the battery pack when it dies. A new pack costs around $900, and he's done the sums based on the earliest a ZEV customer has ever had to replace a battery – that being six years of useful life.
Zehrbach is looking at rolling this machine out globally and is accepting orders now. While US customers tend to be less from big cities and more from small to mid-sized towns, he told us there's been lots of enquiries from disabled folk around the world, including plenty in less developed countries.
Check out a video below.