We know General Motors (s GM) is teetering on the edge of bankruptcy, but building a new car that looks like a souped-up wheelchair may not be the best way to boost sales. The struggling automaker said today that it’s teamed up with Segway to work on a new two-wheeled, low-speed electric vehicle, called Project PUMA, for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility.
Remember Segway? That’s the company that, despite a whole lot of hype, completely failed to make its original electric personal transporter into the game-changer it was touted to be. And there are already a number of low-speed vehicles (LSVs) on the market, so adding one more to the mix doesn’t seem to be the best idea, especially while many startups and automakers, including GM, are pushing toward highway-speed electric cars.
The companies haven’t said how much they’re investing in the project, or how much the PUMA will cost, but Segway said on its web site that “it’s probably less than most current small car prices.” That could make it at least cost-competitive with current LSVs — the Zenn from Zenn Motor sells for about $13,600.
But will GM and Segway really be able to keep it at that price level? The high price tag of the original Segway kept it from being much more than a luxury scooter, although it has since shown up in some police fleets and tour groups. The one big advantage that PUMA will have is Segway’s trademark two-wheel balancing system, which means the cars could be smaller than the competition.
With a top speed of 35 miles per hour, the prototype can carry two passengers for up to 35 miles before needing to recharge its lithium-ion battery. Segway said on its web site that it can be configured to carry more people, but there are some other serious drawbacks that need to be worked on before the company should think about adding more passengers to the mix. The prototype hasn’t been tested in bad weather, and it still needs some development to work out traction control, as well as an enclosure to keep the rain out.
And don’t try to go off-roading with the PUMA. Segway said the prototype was only made to drive over smooth terrain. GM and Segway unveiled the vehicle in New York this morning, a city that’s not really known for its smooth roads, so hopefully it had a spotter vehicle leading the way, keeping an eye out for potholes. Remember what happened to the former President.
Photo courtesy of Segway.