GM-Segway joint effort — what could be cooler?

If you’ve ever heard grandma talk about her new “hi-pod,” or your dad say that he’s getting into “tweetering,” or Uncle Jack admit that he likes some of “Little Wayne’s” music, you probably had the same feeling I did when I read a story out of New York earlier this week.

General Motors executives announced that they’ve joined with Segway in an effort to produce a spawn of Satan called the PUMA. The two-wheeled, two-seat vehicle is designed to be a fast, safe, inexpensive and clean alternative to traditional cars for cities across the world.

With a bulbous design that reminded me of one of those claustrophobic motion-simulation pods you occasionally see at the mall, the 300-pound prototype was seen scooting about Manhattan on Tuesday in an introduction to the press. The vehicle runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway’s characteristic two-wheel balancing technology and dual electric motors to reach speeds of up to 35 m.p.h.

GM apparently thinks there’s a market for people who want to be as cool as a Disney World employee while potentially being on the losing end of a collision with a SmartCar.

The GM marketing department engaged in some “acronymnastics” to come up with an abbreviation that is more catchy than it is descriptive. PUMA stands for “Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility,” when having the last word start with “V” for vehicle or “D” for doo-dad would make better sense but a more awkward acronym. Selling a product that doesn’t even have a noun in its name sounds like a risky proposition, or just about right for GM.

To make it even sexier for that hard-to-reach demographic of people who want to buy a Detroit-made car, the PUMA project would involve “a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact with each other, regulate the flow of traffic and prevent crashes from happening.” The network would use transponder and GPS technology that would let the devices drive themselves. They would “automatically” avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars, assuming they would ever be allowed on the road.

And therein seems to be the problem. Current traffic laws in virtually every major U.S. city make the Segway too big and fast to be allowed on sidewalks with pedestrians, but at the same time too small and slow to drive on regular roadways. Executives at both firms said they were confident that urban planners would adapt their cityscapes to build news lanes and additional infrastructure for the PUMA. Yeah, that could happen.

In the meantime, the automaker is looking for a place, such as a college campus, where the vehicles could be put to use and grab a foothold in the market. Because, apparently, they’ve heard that college kids are cool.

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4 Responses to “GM-Segway joint effort — what could be cooler?”

  1. InActionMan IAM Says:

    Oh Davis, you’ve shattered me segwey illusions. Too fast for pavements and too slow for the road, eh? Well, back to the drawing board of avoiding environmental collapse.
    Here’s a wacky idea from Europe! Why not build more compact cities with a decent public transportations infrastructure and tax both cars and petrol heavily to discourage use.
    What the world needs, if you’ll forgive me sliding into rant mode, is not electric cars (with coal-fired power stations making electricity) but no cars. Never mind banning the bomb-let’s ban the car!

  2. Kevin Says:

    I don’t know what they call those tiny little clown cars that are popping up here in Omaha, but they are street legal. Maybe GM should take a hint from them instead of hinting at “Big Brother”-esque future cities built around their little toy. Perhaps this is the real reson Detroit id in trouble? Fantasies of robot cars and delusions of grandeur?

    But I used to buy American cars… maybe I’m wrong here.

  3. journeybooks Says:

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my blog. At least GM is trying desperately to get its head out of its arse and actually think about the future. If I lived in a city and they designated a lane for those things, it WOULD be cool to drive one. And I think we should all think long and hard about the future if cars are not made in the US.
    Jennifer

  4. Samantha Says:

    I want one. But then again, I own a Snuggie.

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