Invacare rolls center-wheel

Tuesday, December 31, 2002

ELYRIA, Ohio - So confident is Invacare that its new center-wheel-drive power wheelchair technology will succeed that the company has begun sounding the death knell over its rear-wheel-drive PWCs.

In a press release that followed the FDA’s marketing clearance for the Storm Series TDX power chair in late November, Invacare said it believed its new center-wheel option would “eventually replace the company’s traditional rear-wheel drive power wheelchairs.”

“We have probably maximized every angle, every perspective and every opportunity in rear wheel drive,” said Hymie Pogir, vice president of marketing for custom power products. “So there is nowhere else to go.”

Except to center-wheel drive technology.

Pride Mobility Products pioneered mid-wheel-drive power wheel chair technology when it rolled out the Jazzy power base in the mid-1990s. The Jazzy’s success encouraged Pride to take the same highly maneuverable power base into the high-end rehab market with the launch of Quantum Rehab two years ago.

Meanwhile, Invacare went back to the drawing board, searching for a competing technology that would enable its own big spash in center-wheel drive. At Medtrade 2001, Invacare rolled out a center-wheel alternative in the Xterra and M-71 power chairs. But it was not until the TDX technology came off that the company began talking about a wholesale migration from rear wheel drive to center-wheel drive.

Historically, the great inhibitor to moving from rear wheel to center wheel has involved compromises in stability. Enter SureStep, a patent-pending automatic system that ensures the consumer driving the chair can handle everyday obstacles and thresholds, up to three-inches.

The next stability enhancement came in Stability lock, a patent-pending technology that ensures the chair remains stable without the “tippiness” commonly associated with mid-wheel or center-wheel drive powerchairs. Enter the new safety lock technology, known as Stability Lok. The feature allows an adult to stand on the chair’s foot plates, even on a downhill grade, without tipping.

Rehab providers who’ve previewed TDX chairs (they won’t be available until May) are buying Invacare’s contention that the TDX could make center wheel drive the default choice for high-end users.

“You are still going to have old quads in chairs who don’t ant to change,” said Ted Malkowski, of Westhill Rehab in Apleton, Wisc., “but midwheel is the future.”

Why? In a word, maneuverability. Where Invacare’s rear-wheel drive Storm chairs need all of 49-inches to make a turn, the TDX K0011 and K0014 chairs can turn in 25 inches.

“Now that you’ve cut the radius down to 25 inches, and at the same time taken that maneuverability outdoors, [center-wheel drive] is going to take off,” said Ed Curley, of Hudson Home Health in Newington, Conn. HME