April 7, 2009 8:33 pm

Segway and GM launch Puma joint venture

General Motors and Segway on Tuesday unveiled a tiny two-wheeled, two-seat electric car designed to drive on its own and automatically avoid collisions.

The troubled Detroit carmaker said that unlike the upright Segways now in use, the vehicle would be enclosed from the elements, carry two or more passengers and have a top speed of 35 miles an hour.

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Neither GM nor Segway gave any prices or dates when production might start for the vehicle, dubbed Puma – Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility – as they showed a prototype in New York.

The prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and has a driving range of 35 miles on one charge.

Segway said it had begun informal talks with city planners “from Paris to Singapore” about taking part in tests to see how the vehicle would work in urban environments.

GM, which is investing in advanced technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle communications in spite of its financial problems, said the car “could change the way we move about in cities”.

Asked about the practicality of Puma, GM said: “Not everybody in the world will be driving these things, but it certainly has applicability for cities, college campuses, and things of that ilk.”

The carmaker will provide the technology that will enable Puma to negotiate traffic and park without hitting other vehicles.

Makers of pint-sized electric vehicles have a history of making grand promises to revolutionise transport but then struggling to clear regulatory and practical hurdles, preventing them from winning mass acceptance.

In Britain, the Sinclair C5, a three-wheel battery-powered vehicle created by Sir Clive Sinclair and launched in 1985, failed because of safety concerns and other practical issues. The company producing it was put into receivership the same year.

Segway has sold about 50,000 of its two-wheel scooters since launching them in 2002. Some countries ban their use on public roads. They are commonly used in places such as theme parks and military bases, and by police.

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