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Wheelchair-bound woman’s passion for independence drives electric-car prototype | TribLIVE Mobile

A few years ago, Stacy Zoern was doing some online research on transportation.

Zoern, 33, an Austin attorney, has never walked because of a neuromuscular condition and has always used a wheelchair. And she’s never driven, aside from an $80,000 modified van that was wrecked when she was a student at the University of Texas.

After some searching, she found Kenguru, a Budapest-based company advertising small electric vehicles that allow wheelchair users to enter through a back hatch and drive — all while never getting out of the chair. The entire rear of the vehicle is a hatch that can be raised, allowing a wheelchair passenger to roll in using a built-in ramp.

For Zoern, who owns no vehicle and lives in downtown Austin, it sounded like a godsend.

“It basically extends the range of a wheelchair. Me, I can go maybe a mile in my chair out in the elements. Now I can go 20 miles and be protected from the rain and the sun,” she said. “It’s not a car — it’s an expansion of your independence.”

But the vehicle was still in the prototype phase and the company was nearly bankrupt, she said. Zoern talked to the owner, Istvan Kissaroslaki, and heard his plight.

“I was on my way home from work when she called, and we spoke for 45 minutes,” Kissaroslaki told the New York Times. “I would normally have told her, ‘Get in line.’ We had just lost all our bank financing, 2 million euros, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I told her to call me back in about four years.”

Not wanting to give up, Zoern and a partner at her law firm called him back and asked how much money he needed.

“He actually started laughing because I’m this crazy girl in Texas that doesn’t have any money and he needs $3 million,” she said. “So that was kind of the beginning of our relationship.”

Kissaroslaki, a Hungarian-born veteran of the European auto industry, told the New York Times he met with a couple of potential investors in Europe, “but I didn’t like them.” But he and Zoern continued to talk and exchange emails.



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