The Kenguru NEV is pretty much the PERFECT around-town vehicle for wheelchair users. It's more convenient and easier to use than its gas-guzzling counterpart, and it's a quarter of the price.
If you haven't heard of this cute little electric car, it's a small neighborhood electric vehicle with no seats, and no doors - except a rear hatch that opens by remote with a little ramp that allows a wheelchair user to roll in and lock down...
...then close the hatch and drive away.
So what do I like about the Kenguru? Well, compared with the typical gas-guzzler conversion van for wheelchairs:
I talked with Stacy Zoern, CEO of the Kenguru manufacturing company in Texas called Community Cars Inc., about how her NEV offers freedom and independence for her customers in ways that its gas-guzzling counterpart cannot.
We also talked a little about how the cost of a Kenguru can be as little as ZERO through back-to-work incentives, and about Stacy's journey from being a prospective Kenguru customer to heading an electric car startup.
Update: These have been discontinued. As far as I know, they are not being manufactured anywhere, but if you find out differently, please let me know!
Lynne: Hi, Stacy. In the video above, the woman is in her wheelchair driving her Kenguru from her apartment building to work. I was amazed at how easy and convenient driving around town became! She just unplugged it from the charger, rolled in and she was off!
I was wondering, have you ever timed the difference between getting in/out of a modified gas-guzzler versus the Kenguru? If not, can you sort of give me an educated guess comparison?
Stacy: It takes approximately 15 seconds to get in the Kenguru (for the hatch to open, roll-in, close and go!).
Contrasted with the gas-guzzler...?
For a person who uses a manual wheelchair and has to transfer into a car to drive from the typical seat and then load the wheelchair, it can take between 5-15 minutes. To load into a van with a lift for a power chair, it takes about 5 minutes.
You started this company because you were a customer, is that right? That is, you're a lawyer, you're in a wheelchair, and you wanted a vehicle to get to work. You saw this Kenguru on the Internet and said - I want that! But when you inquired, you found that the Hungarian company that built them had sort of gone dormant for lack of funding.
So you raised some money and basically bought the company and started building Kengurus in the United States. Right?
Had you ever driven a Kenguru before you started your manufacturing company here in Texas?
No, I am not strong enough to drive the current model we are producing, which is for people who use manual wheelchairs and have good upper body strength.
Have you now gotten the joystick model - the Kenguru YOU'LL be able to drive - into production, or have you got yourself a prototype?
No, not yet. It will likely be another 18 months before I have a Kenguru.
It makes me a little sad that the very first Kenguru produced didn't go to you.
So have you ever driven or ridden as a passenger in any kind of electric car? I ask because the exhilaration of driving electric is unique, and uniquely inspiring.
I have not, but I daydream about this often.
In the video, I loved the fact that she didn't need help with anything. It was ALL under her control and waiting in the garage for her to decide when she wanted to go somewhere. I imagine that would just open up so many possibilities.
Yes. There have been hundreds of times when I would realize I needed to run an errand and I had no one who was able to take me, so I would have to wait sometimes days. I have also missed out on more events than I can count because I didn't have a driver who could bring me. And if the weather is bad, I just stay home.
Are Kengurus in production now? If so, how many have you sold?
Yes, we have just started production in the U.S. We have sold about 25 to our distributors, and shipped 4 of those so far. None of them have been sold to end users yet (the samples are being used for trade shows and showrooms), but this is expected to change by year end.
I got the impression that there is so much demand for these that they are back-ordered. Is that right, is there a waiting list?
Yes, that is correct! There are hundreds of people all over the world that are waiting right now. I get emails all the time from potential users like this, here are a couple of examples:
There are 3.3 million people in the U.S. alone that use wheelchairs - a huge number.
I've seen you quoted in a few places saying that the price of a Kenguru can be as little as zero for people who need it for transportation to get to work?
Is this through tax incentives, government programs, or are there private funding agencies who also contribute to this?
This is through government programs currently...
Like the Department of Vocational Rehab, the Veterans Administration...
...yes, but we are working on a private funding agency to help as well.
The difference in price between a wheelchair modified gas-guzzler and a Kenguru is HUGE. Did I hear you say that your former car, a gas-guzzler you had modified to accomodate your needs, was $80,000 after the modifications?
On the other hand a Kenguru is $25,000 before any incentives, and there are lots of incentives available. There's the EV incentive, which - you said that was $5,000? Which brings it down to $20,000.
That's a quarter of the cost of its gas-burning counterpart, even before you even start factoring in the savings of fuel and service like oil changes and such, or repairs. Right?
Exactly right. The EV incentive varies by region, but that's right.
This strikes me as ironic because the potential EV buyer today is in a situation where the new EVs coming out are priced a little higher than the gas-burning alternative; but the Kenguru is actually priced considerably lower than its usual gas-guzzling competition. It's quite a different perspective.
So are government agencies excited about this? The Department of Vocational Rehab and the Veterans Administration, I understand, are the ones helping people in wheelchairs get the assistive technologies that allow them to get to work, so they're buying vans and lifts and such for people. Your Kenguru is potentially going to save the government a LOT of money, and help a lot of people in wheelchairs get to work.
Yes, that is exactly right. Not only can more people become tax-paying citizens by working, but when we can get out in the community, we spend more money in the community.
Last question: I heard you pronounce the word "Kenguru" and it sounded like you said "Kangaroo". Then I saw your company logo, and sure enough - it's a kangaroo! Can you tell me about the connection between kenguru and kangaroo?
Yes! 'Kenguru' is the Hungarian word for 'Kangaroo.' The company started in Hungary, and it resembles a pouch to safely carry you around!
Thank you, Stacy.
I just have to say that your Kenguru is the coolest EV application I've seen in a long time, and I hope your business will be outrageously successful. So much for unbiased reporting.
Thank you! Me too! =)
Back to Neighborhood Electric Cars.