Access Granted

Red McCombs Toyota helps ‘put normalcy back in the lives’ of the physically challenged
by Dan Miller
Jan/Feb 2017
Access Granted
Giving Customers a Lift
Offering mobility-challenged customers the chance to buy a Sienna with a factory-installed Auto Access Seat is the right thing to do, says Fleet Manager Mike Buffenbarger.
Photo by Rex Curry
General Manager Blake George says that, just like every other vehicle in its lineup, Red McCombs Toyota does generate a profit when it sells a Sienna with a factory-installed Auto Access Seat. But its impact on the San Antonio, Texas, dealership’s balance sheet isn’t his primary motivation.
How could it be when the impact on the customers who need this specialized minivan is potentially life changing?
“We don’t sell them simply to make money,” says George. “With this product, our primary objective is to give back to our community. The way we see it, we are charged with the responsibility to do the right thing.”
In this case, the right thing is giving mobility-challenged customers a lift — quite literally. It could be an elderly couple, where one spouse can still drive, but the other cannot. It could be a disabled child who depends on a parent to get around. Or it could be a military veteran who, due to wounds suffered on the battlefield, has lost the use of one or more limbs. Each of these people longs to continue to lead an active life. But doing so can often hinge on access to motorized mobility.
That’s where Toyota’s Auto Access Seat can make the difference. It represents the only such device designed and installed by an automaker for one of its mainstream vehicles. Unlike an aftermarket product, the cost of the seat can be folded into the vehicle’s overall financing, making it more affordable. It’s covered by Toyota’s factory-backed new-car warranty and can be serviced at any Toyota dealership — offering additional peace of mind.
How Does It Work?
The passenger or caregiver presses a button along the seat’s base or on a wireless remote, setting the mechanism into motion from its starting position in the Sienna’s second row. From there, the seat rotates 90 degrees, extends away from the vehicle and then lowers to a convenient transfer height. Once settled, the passenger simply presses another button and the seat automatically retraces its path. For safety's sake, the Sienna's automatic transmission remains in park and its power door can't be closed until the Auto Access Seat is locked in place.
For the past four years, Red McCombs Toyota has kept one of these minivans on permanent display on its showroom floor. That includes a more spacious location between service and sales since the dealership opened its all-new, 92,000-square-foot facility in June.
“There’s a lot of fascination with it,” says Fleet Manager Mike Buffenbarger. “More than anything, it’s about creating awareness. This need exists and Toyota offers a solution. We feature it on our website. We get calls from all around the country. People go to their local dealerships, but not all of them have it.”
Spreading the Word
In addition to the ongoing demo, Red McCombs Toyota seeks out other opportunities to spread the word each October, which is National Disability Awareness Month.
So while the dealership might sell no more than one such Sienna per month, it’s going to remain true to the cause.
“Hey, I get it,” Buffenbarger says. “My parents are in their 80s. It’s not getting any easier for them. And we have a lot of injured military in our community with a large VA hospital. Too many of them get stuck in their houses. This gets them out there and puts some normalcy back in their lives. It really can change the quality of their lives.”
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