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GM’s Pendulum Swings the Other Way With the PUMA

This article was written by in Consumer. 12 comments.

After a few years of not catching onto consumers’ shifting tastes towards more environmentally friendly vehicles, General Motors has teamed up with Segway to develop the PUMA, or Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, a tiny self-balancing, two-wheeled vehicle powered by electricity. The PUMA can reach speeds of thirty-five miles per hour.

It’s an interesting concept, but much like the original Segway, I don’t think it will catch on except in unique circumstances. The only place I see Segways are in shopping malls, where they drivers are part of the facilities security or police. I have had my own personal experience with a Segway; several years ago, I rode one of these devices in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland exhibition.

Dean Kamen, the inventor of the Segway, created massive hype before unveiling the Segway, promising it would revolutionize urban transportation. He would have predicted that these personal transportation devices would be ubiquitous by now, particularly in cities. That hasn’t come to pass yet. In fact, Segway is judged to be a failure.

How the PUMA device is heading in the same direction. But perhaps there is room for success; I have seen an increasing number of Smart Cars on the roads and in parking lots.

Here’s a video of GM and Segway’s collaborative PUMA vehicle. Can you see yourself in one?

Published or updated April 8, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Twiggers

Depends on the price. If you live in a major city and just need to get around, a moped does the trick. Gets awesome gas mileage… but is still emitting harmful toxins into environment. It all comes down to price in the end! Also, they don’t look as easy to store as a moped… which is a big concern if you live in the city.

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avatar Chad Bordeaux

My problem with the Segway was price. They were over $5,000 the last time I checked. And that was before any of the accessories that one might need.

We are moving our office and it will only be about a mile from home, on low-traffic residential roads. I could have easily used the Segway for transportation to our office, but can hardly justify the cost when I can walk, ride my bike, or even get a golf cart. I can easily get a used golf cart for half the price of the Segway, and can fit the whole family on it to go to the pool, etc.

I think the Segway’s would be a huge success is they were around $1,000 instead of $5,000+.

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avatar Baker

I was skeptical before I watched the video, but I kind of like the feel of that thing. Obviously, it depends on the price point that it enters the market, but if the project can stay afloat the market will eventually drive the price down.

Exciting stuff!

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avatar Rassah

Wow. When I saw that, the first words that popped into my head were Oscar the Grouch. The thing looks like a giant trash can!
I think the reason the Segway failed is because of the price. In fact, it’s so expensive that the Disney Employee Federal Credit Union actually offers Segway loans alongside their Auto Loans. Who would pay $5,000+ for something when they can save money by walking? I think this will be a total failure, too. The reason the Smart sells is because it can actually be used as a normal car. It has the speed and the range, and, surprisingly, usually-adequate trunk capacity. Plus it looks neat and cute. Unless this thing has some sort of new battery that can last for over 150 miles on a charge, or it costs less than $3,000 (doubtfull; see Segway), I think GM is heading for more financial ruin. As Twiggers said, a vespa/scooter can run you for around $1,500 or less, and those even come in bio-diesel variety. This will have to compete with those.
I think the saddest part is that this foolishness is coming from GM, which is already in deep trouble for earlier foolishness. So I think the title of this article should be: GM’s Pendulum Swings the Other Way, Overshoots, Hits a Wall, and Crashes Down.

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avatar SJ

Or umm… walk/bike?

A mile or two isn’t that far lol…

As an engr exercise I’m interested in how the balancing works… gyro’s internal?

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avatar Stephanie PTY

Ugh… I’m unconvinced that this is any different from the Segway. And Segways remind me of two things: the enormous amount of money my college spent on Segways 2-3 years ago, just to put our campus safety officers on them… which makes no sense. They have to wear helmets when they ride them, and the look silly, and they don’t go that fast. And they’re confined to the sidewalks. Given all of those restrictions, wouldn’t a regular bicycle be better? At least you can off-road with a bike!

The other thing Segways remind me of? Arrested Development. *snicker*

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avatar MyJourney


Maybe I confused a bit but why the hell would this change urban transportation? Like you I live by NYC (40 mins out on Lawwwng Island), and like most of us, I know plenty of buddies that live in “The City” and this product leads me to the only question that would prevent most from buying this thing:


Does the battery come out? Can I carry it upstairs? Is it safe to have my battery on the kitchen table charging?

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avatar Rassah

Does it fit in the elevator? Does it blend?
sorry, couldn’t resist on the last one.

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avatar Atul

I take issue with the opening statement that GM didn’t catch on to customers wanting fuel efficient vehicles. They were wrong in not offering hybrids, but their vehicles have been amongst the most efficient in their segments for years, from mid-sized cars (Malibu, Impala) to sports cars (Corvette and Cobalt SS) to entry lux cars (Saab) to full-sized trucks (Silverado, Suburban). GM’s poor PR department and the fact that they also sold Hummers seems to distract people from this.

As for this 2 person Segue type vehicle, it could work in the future, when fossil fuels become even more expensive, and in very crowded cities. It won’t be practical in N. America for a while though. As with any vehicle that requires a new type of fuel, the infrastructure is always a chicken and egg issue. This was also true of gasoline and it eventually sorted itself out.

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avatar Snady

I had a chance to see this in person. The NY Auto Show is not yet open to the public so the opportunity to ride in it was high…there was no way in HELL that I was getting into it. It looked tiny and unstable. I wouldn’t even use it as a golf cart. SCARY is the optimal word here, but I do like that they are looking at the small car market. Ford has done some MAJOR things with their line-up and they should bounce back soon. Love it.

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avatar Mike

Can GM just die already. They are a waste of tax payer’s money and a national embarrassment. Let’s just let Toyota keep building more plants here in America. At least they aren’t asking for bail out money.

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avatar Rick

It all comes down to price, practicality, and ease of use.
It will be judged a failure on 2 of the 3 counts.
Price-wise, it can’t be cheaper than a motor scooter, or less expensive to use. The wealthy Hollywood elite, who are willing to overpay for everything that is green (and can afford to do so), will make us all think we’re destroying the world if we don’t get one as they tool around in theirs. I see Leonardo DiCraprio getting one soon. And Ed Begley. But they can afford to.
Practically, it’s a magnificent idea, as it will free up tremendous space in cities, and will help prevent some degree of pollution. In addition, I can see injuries being reduced as they seem somewhat safer than motor scooters.
Ease of use – I fail to see how the ability to “refill” will be easier or better than pulling into a gas station. In addition, one of the failures of the Segway is the occasional disruption of the natural balance, leading to injuries when people fall. This will have to be fail safe before it can catch on. Still, even if these things are fixed, scooters remain much easier to use and take up much less space.

I think it’s a road that we have to go down, just from the standpoint of choice. Choice is the key to free market capitalism, and we need it in order to be both fair and efficient. But choice will lead to success or failure. While I’m sure the Government, now firmly in control of GM, will ram this down people’s throats, we can hearken back to the Zil, which the Soviets rammed down their people’s throats. It wasn’t really a raging success – except that it was because people had NO choice.

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