Wheelchair-access vehicles built by an Italian company for the Accident Compensation Commission in 2008 were not certified by the European Union, despite claims by a NZ Transport Agency body that they met EU standards.
The EU code – e50*74/408*2006/96*0002*00 – the Low Volume Vehicle Technical Association (LVVTA) says it has on file in Wellington covers only the vehicles’ seats, seat-locking system, and headrests and not the structural integrity of the converted Kia Carnival vans themselves.
LVVTA chief executive Tony Johnson told Automotive News NZ last month: “The vehicles do in fact comply with European-type certification. We have had on file since 2008 a copy of the vehicles’ EU type-approval certificate which covers the vehicles’ general design and construction … which was presented to the ACC team at the time of inspection.”
But inquiries in Europe reveal the EU compliance code in question covers only the vans’ seats. The “vehicles’ general design and construction” was never certified by an official EU agency. Johnson was not available for comment on this latest development.
The vans were modified by Italian company KIVI, one of many companies which provide such vehicles for Europe’s disabled. KIVI says its driving devices are approved by the Italian Ministry of Transport. Its website says it has full EU approval only for the smaller Kia Soul.
“It’s (Soul) the only car, driven directly from a wheelchair, to have a European Type Approval, by getting through a frontal crash test, in addition to all the other tests listed in the European Directive under Type Approvals.”
The converted Kia Carnivals bought by the ACC for NZ$8.34 million were never subject to structural tests of any sort. The NZTA says they were complied upon their arrival in NZ in 2008 by a Low Volume Vehicle certifier, trained and supported by the LVVTA and appointed by the NZTA.
The LVVTA’s Johnson said: “The certification was carried out by an independent LVV certifier, who was likely placing some reliance on the European type-approval certification that he had been provided with at the time of his initial inspection of the vehicles.” That EU type-approval certification, of course, was for the converted seats only.
How did the vehicles pass the NZTA’s Vehicle Standard Compliance rule? The 2002 rule says, in part … “Specialist inspection and certification is required if the vehicle is a light vehicle that, since it was manufactured, has been modified …. designed and constructed using components and materials that are fit for their purpose, and is within safe tolerance of its state when manufactured or modified …”
But veteran ACC and NZTA contract engineer Bill Cassidy found in a matter of minutes that very little about the modified Kias was “within safe tolerance.” Tauranga-based Cassidy listed major faults with the vehicles after being asked in October 2008 by then ACC executive Gail Kettle to inspect one example.
Kettle had earlier shut out of the picture the ACC’s previous main supplier of vehicles for the disabled, Waikato company Vehicle Adaption Services (VAS), based in Matangi, near Cambridge. Kettle instead turned to Italy’s KIVI.
Since then, the Italian vehicles have needed on-going repairs to keep them on the road for the disabled. Those repairs have cost the NZ taxpayer hundred of thousands of dollars on top of the $NZ8.34 million the ACC paid for them.
So why did Kettle and the ACC pull out of the supply deal with VAS? The VAS wheelchair vehicles met accepted NZ engineering standards. One was in an accident in Northland and later found to have survived structurally sound.
There is another question, this one mentioned in whispers in ACC, NZTA and LVVTA circles. They ask each other: Why was the LVV certifier sent to Italy by the ACC to check out the converted Kia Carnival vans given only a tour of the KIVI plant – and not shown how the actual vehicles intended for NZ were being built?
• The next part of this story will deal with how Kettle and the ACC mucked VAS around, almost sending the company to the wall; how a NZ government agency first charged by the ACC with setting up the Italian vehicles for the disabled didn’t know what it was doing; how a row developed between the same agency and, curiously, NZ Army top brass.