Wheelchair van converters benefit as market grows

As the population ages, the market for special transportation to move around those who are less mobile is starting to attract more attention.

On Tuesday, a large equity fund announced it has invested in a leading aftermarket maker of wheelchair-accessible vehicles.

Evergreen Pacific Partners, which bills itself as Washington state's largest private equity fund, announced today that it has purchased a majority stake in Phoenix-based Vantage Mobility International in Phoenix. VMI converts vans to give them power-operated ramps and other features that can accomodate those in wheelchairs.VMI's CEO, Doug Eaton, retains retains an ownership stake and will continue to lead the company.

"Evergreen's involvement in VMI will give us the resources to help even more people," Eaton says in a statement. "This relationship will allow us to invest in new manufacturing technologies that will lower our costs as we continually improve our world-class quality. Working closely with our dealer network, we'll expand our marketing to reach and serve more customers."

VMI estimates that while three and four million Americans depend on wheelchairs, only about 4% of them own a wheelchair van or other converted vehicle. Besides the aging population, more injured war veterans have come to depend on special transportation.

"Getting behind the wheel is something that most Americans never think twice about, but for anyone in a wheelchair it's a significant barrier to mobility and the freedom that comes with it," said T.J. McGill, managing partner at Evergreen Pacific Partners. "VMI is well positioned to grow given its strong reputation, dealer network and partners."