Segway, GM Collaborate on Next-Generation Personal Transport

4/7/09Follow @wroush

I had to check the calendar when I heard about this to make sure it wasn’t still April Fool’s Day. It appears that Bedford, NH-based Segway and Detroit-based General Motors (NYSE: GM) are joining forces to develop a new electric-powered, two-seater vehicle that, like the famous Segway Personal Transporter (PT), balances on two wheels. The idea is to get people around town quickly and cleanly; like the PT, the new vehicle will be far more maneuverable than a conventional automobile, with a very small turning radius.

Segway and GM unveiled their collaboration in a press release this morning in advance of the New York International Auto Show, which begins April 10. The companies have already been testing their prototype vehicle, called Project P.U.M.A. (for Personal Urban Mobility & Accessibility), around the streets of New York (see photos and video below). The prototype, which resembles a pedicab without the cyclist in front, can travel at speeds up to 35 miles per hour.

The 300-pound vehicle runs on a lithium-ion battery that lasts up to 35 miles between rechargings, GM says. It tilts on its wheelbase, balancing on two wheels using “dynamic stabilization” technology similar to that developed for the Segway PT. (Technically the vehicle has six wheels, including two additional “landing-gear” wheels in front and two in back to catch it when it’s not moving.) The “keys” and dashboard controls for the P.U.M.A. apparently reside in an iPhone-like removable wireless device.

The Project P.U.M.A. concept vehicle“We are excited to be working together to demonstrate a dramatically different approach to urban mobility,” Segway CEO Jim Norrod said in the joint announcement. “The Project P.U.M.A. prototype vehicle embodies this through the combination of advanced technologies that Segway and GM bring to the table to complete the connection between the rider, environment, and others.”

Of course, Detroit has a decades-long history of announcing concept vehicles that never make it into production, and it is not at all clear from today’s announcement—which full of language about “capabilities” and “demonstrations”—that GM and Segway actually intend to manufacture the P.U.M.A. as a consumer product. A cynic might be excused for commenting that today’s news is an attempt by GM, which is in desperate need of a new image, to clothe itself in the aura of innovation that surrounds Segway, the company built by iconic New Hampshire inventor Dean Kamen (an Xconomist).

This is the second Detroit-New England collaboration announced in as many days. Yesterday Chrysler and A123Systems said that Chrysler will use A123′s nanophosphate lithium ion batteries in its new ENVI line of electric vehicles. But both the Segway and A123 projects are dependent on the continued survival of the two car companies, which are hemorrhaging cash and have been targeted for major restructuring and possible bankruptcy by the Obama Administration.

P.U.M.A. video:

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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  • Byron R.

    LOVE this idea. I hope it takes off, and soon! But please add solar power charging (while running). Need to greatly increase the distance that it can go between charges and solar would help a lot.

    Something like this should have happened long ago – except that it took an economic meltdown to force the auto industry to think about change. Look for Big Oil to fight this every step of the way.

    GO SEGWAY!

  • BZ

    Is this really what GM should be doing? They really have far bigger problems to solve than their PR image and this is nothing but a cheap attempt at that. This is about as clumsy a device as I have ever seen for human mobility. A 2-seater tri-wheel scooter would be a more realistic product if GM was so concerned about city congestion.
    This shows us one reason why GM vehicles suck so much compared to its foreign competitors like Toyota. Its best engineers waste their time on ultra niche products like this and the Corvette, while Toyota has its best engineers working on the Camry.

  • JAMES RUSK

    I WANT ONE BAD I NEED IT MY JOB IS MOVEING ON THE OUT SIDE OF TOWN AND I WALK 2 WORK JUST 2 FAR 2 WALK I WOULD JUST LOVE THIS THING

  • RINALDO MERONE

    wath’s the price?