An E.V. That Wraps Around a Wheelchair

By CAITLIN KELLY

For years, Stacy Zoern, a Texas lawyer who lives alone and uses a 400-pound power wheelchair, yearned for more independence. Because of a neuromuscular condition, Ms. Zoern, 33, has never walked, and for a while drove a custom van. But the van was destroyed in a crash, and she didn’t have $80,000 to buy another.


“I was feeling frustrated and stagnant,” she said in a telephone interview from her home in Austin. “I was so sick of being dependent on others to drive me places, but even when I had a vehicle I never felt safe driving a huge van at 70 miles per hour on the highway. I wondered how the technology might have changed since then.”


Two years ago, she began searching the Internet, using the phrase “wheelchair accessible transportation,” and came across a company called Kenguru, in Budapest. Its small, light, electric vehicles sounded perfect.

“I was ecstatic,” she recalled. “This vehicle will change my life. This is exactly what I want.”

When Ms. Zoern’s e-mails to the company went unanswered, she picked up the phone and called the chief executive, Istvan Kissaroslaki. He recalled their conversation this way. “I was on my way home from work when she called, and we spoke for 45 minutes. I would normally have told her, ‘Get in line.’ We had just lost all our bank financing, two million euros, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I told her to call me back in about four years.”

Instead, in an unusual international story of determination, friendship, innovation and entrepreneurship, the Austin-based company that the two have since formed, Community Cars, expects to produce its first vehicles this year. The so-called neighborhood cars will sell for about $25,000, and buyers may qualify for zero-emission or vocational rehabilitation tax incentives.

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