GM and Segway team up for new two-seat car

GM (GM) thinks it's new electric-powered, two-seater passenger car being developed with Segway will help rebuild its leadership position in the urban markets. It's designed to be fast, safe, inexpensive and a clean alternative to traditional cars and trucks. Called the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility project (PUMA), each car will be part of a vast communications network that includes the ability of vehicles to interact with each other, regulate traffic flow and prevent crashes from happening. Look for its prototype on the streets of Manhattan today.

Communicating with non-PUMA vehicles will admittedly be something of a challenge, but GM says that through the use of transponder and GPS technology, PUMA will be able drive itself and automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars.

PUMA's prototype weighs 300 pounds and runs on a lithium-ion battery. The car uses Segway's two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors, and can reach speeds of up to 35 miles-per-hour. The two-wheeled car can run 35 miles on a single charge.

No costs were released, but GM and Segway plan to keep its total operating cost -- including purchase price, insurance, maintenance and fuel -- between one-fourth and one-third of that of the average car. Larry Burns, GM's vice president of research and development, compared PUMA's potential to the Hummer in making the announcement about the PUMA. He said Hummer took GM to the large-vehicle extreme and PUMA takes GM to the other extreme. But is the public ready for that extreme?

While the technology for building PUMA is already in place, the big stumbling block is that the kind of communications infrastructure needed to operate PUMA safely in American cities is years off. GM and Segway are looking for a place where the communications infrastructure may be available, such as a college campus, so the vehicles could be put to use and give GM and Segway a foothold in the market.

Currently there is no time line for production, but it's not the first time out of the box for Segway on this kind of idea. Segway's Personal Transporter was launched with considerable hype eight years ago, but it's not become a mass-market product because of its relatively high cost and the restrictions on its use in many jurisdictions.

GM hopes PUMA, with it's more car-like traits, will do better in the marketplace. What do you think? Would you ride around New York City traffic in this?

Lita Epstein has written more than 25 books including "Trading for Dummies."
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