Kylie Evans

Dodge Wheelchair Vans Improving the Lives of Disabled Individuals

Written by Kylie Evans. Filed in About Dodge Wheelchair Vans

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In recent years, Dodge has produced two vehicles that are often utilized as wheelchair vans. The more recognized of the two is the Dodge Grand Caravan minivan. The other is Dodge’s full-sized van, the Sprinter.

The two vehicles are quite different. The Grand Caravan is the direct descendant of the original Caravans that introduced the world to the minivan in 1984. Dodge has had a strong presence in the minivan sector ever since inventing the concept and the Grand Caravan is one of the manufacturer’s “flagship” models.

The Sprinter isn’t a Dodge-conceived vehicle. It’s basically the US version of a popular European full-sized van from Mercedes. Dodge brought the Sprinter stateside in an effort to compete in a class dominated by another manufacturer. It was presented as an alternative to the ever-popular Ford E-Series vans.

The Grand Caravan

2008 Dodge Caravan

2008 Dodge Caravan

The Grand Caravan started its run as the extended wheelbase version of the Caravan. Dodge has since discontinued the shorter vehicle and the Grand Caravan is its only minivan. The Grand Caravan is available in a standard trim package and a better-appointed version, as well as in a stripped down small cargo van configuration for commercial buyers.

The Grand Caravan is well-known for its wide assortment of optional features. Dodge has been at the forefront of bringing new electronic components into the marketplace and it’s hard to imagine anything one would want in a minivan that they can’t get in a Grand Caravan.

Unfortunately, the performance and quality of the wheelchair minivan haven’t always been as advanced. It wasn’t until a 2008 redesign that Dodge began to turn its back on a rather outdated pair of engine options and a simple four-speed transmission. For years, the Grand Caravan handicap van was underpowered and unimpressive in terms of the driving experience it offered.

2012 Dodge Caravan New Design

2012 Dodge Caravan's new design has solved some problems

The redesign has solved some of those problems, but other lingering issues haunt the Grand Caravan. It has developed a reputation for cheap and even sometimes shoddy construction. The minivans don’t retain resale value very well and they are prone to reliability issues.

That’s why the Grand Caravan isn’t the prohibitive marketplace favorite it once was. Dodge is working to improve the Grand Caravan, but it still doesn’t measure up to more reliable, better performing accessible vehicles from other manufacturers.

However, its long history has helped it to develop a following in the wheelchair van conversion world. Manufacturers have been working with Grand Caravans for decades and they know how to transform the vans into wheelchair accessible vehicles.

The Dodge Sprinter

2008 Dodge Sprinter

The Sprinter is an interesting vehicle. On paper, it’s a winner. It handles better than its competitors do. It offers more space and just as much flexibility. It is far more fuel-efficient. By objective measures, its introduction should’ve spelled trouble for Ford, the current champ in the full-sized van sector.

It didn’t. While Dodge is selling the Sprinter, it just can’t seem to get any real traction in the marketplace. Some of that is undoubtedly related to Ford’s long history of full-sized van dominance. Some of it is probably linked to the unusual high-profile design of the Sprinter, as well.
2008 dodge sprinter badge

Whatever the reason, Dodge has a great full-sized van option and too few people are purchasing it.

The Sprinter can be transformed into a personal or institutional wheelchair van. The high profile that gives it such a unique look also makes it easy for wheelchair users to move around within the vehicle. It’s capable of supporting any lift arrangement, as well.

Dodge Wheelchair Vans: What Comes Next

Dodge’s two wheelchair vans tell different sides of the same story.

2008 Dodge Grand Caravan with a standard trim package

Late model Dodge Grand Caravan handicap van with a standard trim package

The Grand Caravan is a once mighty champion that seems to be holding on based on reputation and tradition. The Sprinter is an upstart that just can’t seem to defeat the aging full-sized van champion, the Ford.

This is the nature of the auto industry. It’s hard to chip away at a known commodity’s spot in the heart of consumers. Dodge is benefiting from that with Grand Caravan, but it’s suffering with the Sprinter.

2005 Dodge Sprinter

Dodge Sprinter wheelchair vans can

The future of the Sprinter is relatively easy to project. Dodge will probably stop offering these vans to the general public and will focus on creating a commercial option to the E-Series through a variety of incremental changes that won’t upset any established upfitting patterns. We may see occasional Sprinter wheelchair vans in individual driveways, but most will be used by those who transport others in a commercial setting. In time, the Sprinter might be able to take a chunk out of Ford’s share of the market.

The Dodge Caravan is in a more precarious position. Dodge “reinvented” the Grand Caravan only a few years ago and it seems unlikely that Dodge will suddenly opt to start over again. At the same time, the new design seems to suffer from a number of mechanical problems and isn’t wowing critics with its handling or performance. Meanwhile, minivans from competitors are steadily improving, increasing the gap. Dodge will probably continue to produce slight variations on the Grand Caravan, hoping to retain market share based on pricing and tradition until the auto industry experiences the kind of resurgence that might justify a new generation of the venerable minivan.

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About Kylie Evans

Kylie Evans

Kylie understands from her life experiences that people who have a spinal cord injury are a true cross-section of humanity. Kylie provides excellent advice from her life experience with disabled people.

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