September 17th 2019
TOKYO – The Japanese government and manufacturers are promoting electric wheelchairs as a means of transportation to replace automobiles at a time when elderly people are increasingly returning their driver’s licenses.
Suzuki Motor Corp. is one of the country’s largest makers of electric wheelchairs.
Its mainstay ET4D model, priced at ¥368,000, has advanced safety functions and it can even give verbal instructions when it approaches a steep slope, according to the automaker.
The ET4D also features a large basket and a range of as much as 31 km after a full charge, according to the company.
Startup Whill Inc. sells electric wheelchairs controlled by hand levers.
Its mainstay Model C, which costs ¥450,000, features a futuristic design and does not look like a typical wheelchair.
Some customers are delighted to hear passersby say the wheelchair is cool, a public relations official at the company said.
The number of people who returned their driver’s licenses totaled 421,190 last year and has been increasing at a rapid pace over the past decade, according to National Police Agency data.
But the public is largely unfamiliar with electric wheelchairs. Only 3 percent of respondents chose electric wheelchairs as a means of transportation available to them after returning their driver’s licenses, according to a survey by the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association conducted in fiscal 2017.
“People purchase electric wheelchairs after learning of their existence by spotting people in them,” a Suzuki official said. “We’d like to highlight their convenience so as not to draw a reaction from potential users that they are too young to use them.”
The welfare ministry is collaborating with the private sector to consider ways to promote electric wheelchairs as a means of transportation for elderly people.