GM Segway Electric Vehicle

Brian Hicks

Written By Brian Hicks

Posted April 8, 2009

After a half-century on British roads, the Mini Cooper has been making steady gains across the pond…

Sales of the Mini Cooper—first known to many Americans because British TV buffoon Mr. Bean drove one—were a solitary bright spot in the U.S. car market in 2008.

While heavy-duty models and even modest coupes floundered in sales as the recession made itself known, Mini Cooper sales kicked up 28% year-on-year. 

That brought benefits to Mini parent BMW, and evidently got GM thinking big about going small…

Because General Motors and Segway, makers of the revolutionary scooter no one has, are teaming up to bring a 200 mile-per-gallon-equivalent 2-seater called PUMA (short for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) to market.

segway puma ap photo

It does look goofy, but from an energy efficiency standpoint, could the PUMA help GM strike the right chord with U.S. car buyers?

"It’s not going on sale anytime soon," GM’s PUMA project director told USA Today.

Even if it never does hit showroom floors, the compact, gyroscopic, auto-pilot capable PUMA will contribute to automotive technology as R&D.

PUMA planners want travel lanes for the enclosed vehicle just like they did for the exposed Segway—neither is likely to come about.

But we’re getting closer to a balance between the needs of a growing energy-conscious urban consumer base that doesn’t want to abandon cars altogether, and a Hummer-centric domestic industry that took "biggest is best" as a mantra.

As for oil prices, these incremental steps towards possibly electric vehicle dominance (Toyota’s Prius, Chevy’s Volt, Tesla‘s Model S… GM’s PUMA?) are worth watching. 

And electric cars may not be the most important link in the chain… My colleague Jeff Siegal noted in a recent article that GM is kicking into high gear on electric truck development, potentially bringing fuel savings into freight and leading to a trend of energy-fed deflation.  

With higher-profile cars and light trucks, needs to tread very carefully on the tightrope between showing its ongoing drive towards innovation and keeping itself alive through 2010 with market-ready vehicles.

Also chew on this… after the carbon footprint of electricity it takes to keep PUMA on the road is factored in, the mileage-per-gallon breakdown is closer to 70, not 200. Not bad, but not good enough for a world market that isn’t expected to cut GM any slack.

Sam Hopkins

P.S. – Green Chip International subscribers have a bead on the world’s best battery play, and it’s not American. To learn more about the burgeoning global market for cars that are smart, safe, and cheap, click here:

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