A few months ago the Colibri lightweight micro scooter, from Invacare, was named among the winners at the prestigious 2014 Red Dot Awards. It’s good to see mobility products being involved in an international award recognising excellence in design, but this win actually did more to highlight a problem with the current state of the mobility market. For all its positive qualities, this scooter is not the cutting edge new idea that our readers want to see – just more of the same. It still lacks what the Blue Badge Style community is crying out for: we want it to look good too! We feel, as do our readers and commenters, that the current range of mobility scooters are boring, ugly and totally uninspired.
Recent years have seen changes towards lighter, more compact models of scooter – a practical advance but one that fails to address the basic flaw that the designs remain ugly and old fashioned, with tacky, out of place, plastic chairs, plastic shopping baskets at the front (surely there are other ways of accommodating storage) and a bland range of colours. The image of the mobility scooter remains old and is out of touch with what people want. Other mobility products still have similar problems but have come much further. Finding a trendy wheelchair or walking aid is tricky, but far from impossible.
Last year we took a look at the state of the mobility scooter market and tried to talk up a selected few. However, the reality was that the scooters we found were just the best of a bad bunch. It was impossible to get past the fact that they were all just different varieties of bad. The lack of appeal of even the best scooters was reflected even more strongly in the comments below our (failed) attempt to find attractive mobility scooters. Our readers seemed to feel that choosing the best mobility scooter was like picking your favourite page from the Penguin Book of Turds. It doesn’t take long to realise from the responses that people feel totally let down by the available models. And with good reason:
One reader, Ian, asked “why is it so hard to find a scooter with any degree of ergonomics or design? Why for the price of a decent second hand car can’t I find something I actually LIKE?” This allusion to the price of a car was a fantastic way of pointing out the problem as it stands: whereas cars are designed to get your pulse racing; mobility scooters are more likely to send you into a coma.
Carol had a similar point, saying that “the choice out there is positively dire (and that’s being polite). [I] didn’t realise how little choice there would be on style and colour”. The BBS community was clearly of the mindset that, just because mobility products are something you have to buy, it doesn’t mean you don’t care what they look like. Products like glasses and shoes – which people also need to have – aren’t all clunky and dull, so why should mobility scooters be?
Lisa’s comment stood out perhaps more than any other, stating that “I actually need to use a mobility scooter but because of the discerning looks and the way I feel in one I refuse to.” It’s quite concerning that people feel so let down by the available products that they are knowingly going without something they need. She followed up with an explanation of what she wants to see, describing the ‘Joanna Lumley of scooters’ with “a champagne glass holder, CD interchanger, perhaps a convertible roof, height adjustable seat, caddy seat for a small child”. That’s Lisa’s personal vision but the general idea for a more stylish scooter, with features made adaptable for each individual user, is definitely something we can all agree would be a wonderful idea!
If that crop of mobility scooters are naff, what is it that people are really looking for?
Well, the bad news is that, whatever it is, one year later, it still isn’t available to buy but you could look at the Sure Mag site for ideas. Maybe Honda’s EV-Monpal can act as a good starting point to give designers some inspiration for the future. It at least ticks some of the boxes in terms of providing an original and modern model of scooter. Gone is the bog standard faux leather seat, replaced by more comfortable and attractive in built unit which fits into the scooter’s streamlined look, which looks less angular and far smoother than most (including Honda’s first, rather dull, take on the mobility scooter).
The EV-Monpal is kitted out with of gadgets and features, including an LCD monitor – the champagne glass holder is however still missing. Another great point about this scooter is that, embracing new technologies, it runs on solar energy, making it the mobility scooter of the future. Unfortunately it’s of the future in the literal sense as, despite first appearing over five years ago and being backed by manufacturing super power Honda, the EV-Monpal is not available to buy. Frustrating is an understatement.
An even more radical idea appeared at the 2011 Tokyo Motor Show but never came to be manufactured. The Kowa-TMSUK joint venture created these three ultra compact electric vehicles featuring extensible and collapsible mechanisms. They look like a bold (possibly too bold) new approach to scooter design, with brash, futuristic design, which goes to show how much scope there is if designers use their imaginations a little. You can design a new model rather than just slightly upgrading the same old rubbish. Again, the sad news is that the scooter devices have fallen away, with the company now solely focusing on the orange buggy (right). At least it shows there is someone out there who realises that mobility scooters don’t all need to look the same!
That goes some way to solving one of the mobility scooter problems, but the stylish scooter is still too far away. Sunrise Medical’s latest model of scooter – the Sterling Sapphire 2 – offers great range, excellent comfort and fits in a car boot for easy transportation, but it still doesn’t really solve our style issue. They have in the past shown that they get it and have an understanding of the desire from less abled people to see more style in mobility products – particularly in the case of the very cool Quickie series of wheelchairs – but somebody needs to design an attractive scooter sooner rather than later.
Sunrise have a plan to release a more stylish model in Spring next year, so we will have to see what they come up with. In the mean time we’ll keep looking out for stylish scooters, but at least now, we have some more information on how to make sure the scooter fits the user. It’s a start but this remains a really tricky area in the mobility world and it looks like there’s a long way to go to force companies to act and design our trendy mobility scooter.