GM and Segway team up for new two-seat car

Is this GM’s new direction?

GM sees an electric, 2-wheel future

The ailing U.S. automaker and personal transporter maker Segway unveil a two-seat vehicle targeted to city streets.

By Catherine Clifford, staff writer

Last Updated: April 7, 2009: 12:58 PM ET

NEW YORK ( – So is this what President Obama had in mind?

General Motors (GM, Fortune 500) - under an end-of-May deadline to come up with a viable plan of operation - has joined forces with personal-transporter maker Segway to develop a two-seat, two-wheeled, electrically powered vehicle for use navigating city streets.

The prototype for the new vehicle - called Project P.U.M.A., which stands for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility - was unveiled Tuesday in New York.

The two-person scooter-mobile travels up to 35 miles per hour and runs as much as 35 miles between recharges, the companies said. The vehicle runs on large-format lithium-ion batteries that the companies say produce no emissions, making it environmentally friendly.

The companies said Project P.U.M.A. also features real-time traffic and other connectivity technology similar to GM’s OnStar system for automobiles. It also includes a system that prevents the scooter from bumping into other objects.

“Project P.U.M.A. represents a unique solution to moving about and interacting in cities, where more than half of the world’s people live,” said Larry Burns, GM vice president of research and development and strategic planning, in a written statement.

Segway is known for the two-wheel individual personal transporters on which a rider stands upright. The devices are often used by urban police departments and by the security forces of tourist attractions such as theme parks and zoos.

More than a toy: Peter Shankman, a New York City-based social media strategist, was one of the first to buy the original Segway in 2001, and he is optimistic about P.U.M.A.

“The [original] Segway was really more of a toy,” said Shankman. “It was great, but it was a toy for people who were gadget freaks and airport cops. But this thing actually could be something. You can have two people, you have room to store bags, and it has a cover, so you could ride it in the rain.”

Still, he noted, it’s not big enough to fetch groceries or haul anything.

GM and Segway would not disclose the price of the new P.U.M.A., but said that the two-wheeler would cost between one-quarter and one-third what it costs to own and operate a traditional car.

“That is a lot of money for something that you can’t carry groceries in,” said Shankman, who paid $5,000 for his Segway in 2001.

In the nick of time: For General Motors, Project P.U.M.A. comes at a crucial time. The nation’s biggest automaker, which has already received $13.4 billion in emergency federal loans, has been given until the end of next month to come up with a viable plan of operation.

Obama, in his statement last month on the status of GM and Chrysler, said U.S. companies “are investing in breakthrough technologies that hold the promise of new vehicles that will help America end its addiction to foreign oil.”

“It is understandable that GM would do something like [P.U.M.A.] to get some favorable attention,” said Gerald Meyers, professor of management at the University of Michigan Business School. “However, it is not a significant product offering. It is an interesting, good-feeling attempt to look like they are adventuresome and enlightened and modern.”

But, he added, while “they will get some credit for that, it won’t make one scintilla of difference in the marketplace or to any serious money manager.”

Obama said that in order to get further aid from the government, GM must do such as things as pare unprofitable brands, clean up its balance sheet, and work with unions and creditors to come up with a way to do business in the future. The possibility of a bankruptcy filing looms, either as part of a restructuring or the failure to come up with a suitable plan. To top of page

First Published: April 7, 2009: 7:47 AM ET

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It’s an interesting concept, but I’m not sure it’s really a car. How do I license and insure it? Can I ride it on a sidewalk? Or on a bike path? What if there is no sidewalk? The grocery store is only two miles away but a mile of that is state highway without sidewalks and some of it is posted at 40mph. Do I drive in a traffic lane and impede traffic? On the shoulder where there is bottomless mud in the Spring and substantial snowbanks in the Winter? Or do I carry the bloody thing and walk facing traffic?

I believe it is meant to be used on the roads rather than the sidewalk, and licensing and insurance should be similar to a moped. There is no place to put groceries in it, so I wouldn’t worry about taking it to the grocery store unless you work there. It can probably go 40 MPH with no problems.

How will it hold up in a 35 MPH crash with an F-150?

Hold Up? I Don’t Think It Will Hold Up Your F-150 A Bit.

I hope they put coffin handles on these as standard equipment. That makes more sense than wasting time and energy using the Jaws of Life and then a coffin.

What they have in mind is to get you out of your truck (through punitive taxes and incentives) and into one of these little beauties. I wonder how it hauls a boat trailer in a cross-wind?

I don’t see why it would be any more dangerous that a motorcycle or a moped. You all act in shock as if GM is introducing a whole new level of danger.

I hope it’s not another Chevy Volt promise. Let’s make an advertisement gimic and stretch it out til the bail out money is gone.

I listened to an interview yesterday with the GM executive in charge of this project, and he stated–truthfully, I think–that this is just an extension of the Segway concept that has been in use for several years. Aside from a larger superstructure, and probably a bigger motor and a bigger battery, this is really just the next logical step with the existing Segway technology.

Will it appeal to everyone? Clearly, no. But, then again, neither does a Suburban.
Each will have its fans and each will have customers if this urban transport does come to market w/in 2 years, as he stated it would. The other claim, that it will retail for “1/3 of the price of a conventional economy car”, should help to make it appealing to those who live in cities worldwide.

I Purchase Safe Cars. I Don’t Expect A Car To Be As Unsafe As A Moped Or Motorcycle.

I would never operate any motor scooter in traffic. That 2-wheel thing could trip over a curb and kill its passengers. Ridiculous.

I would drive one around on the grass at the Country Club to carry my golf clubs and hold my beer, though.

Check out the video

They may be ultimately eyeing the densely populated cities in other countries that are banning gas powered vehicles in their city limits.

I have a hard time imagining this anywhere but an urban setting. Amsterdam wants you to park your car in one of several huge parking garages that surround the city and take public transportation. Minicars are popular there and in other densely populated cities because they are easier to park. A PUMA in New York could make excellent sense. Just don’t take it through the George Washington tunnel.

But for cities that outlaw gasoline driven cars these things might be perfect. Even in the tunnels.

GM’s history may be repleat with unfulfilled promises but Dean Kamen’s is not. Dean is the techno-wizard behind this. He’s only partnered with GM for the acquisition of capital and for the product exposure.

I’d back Dean anyday. This’ll become product in the very near future.

OOPs! The Lincoln tunnel is the road out of Manhattan to New Jersey. It puts you on the highway (Rte 495). The GW Bridge goes from Manhattan to New Jersey a bit farther north and puts you on Rte 95. But the point is to stay off the highway in this city car. Whenever it’s available, that is.

It’s maximum speed is listed as 38 mph. It won’t be highway legal. In many areas it might fit under the category of scooter for registration purposes.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.