2009 New York: GM and Segway team up on urban car concept

What looks to your untrained eyes like a Segway with two seats, a rollcage, and some hazard tape is in fact a Segway with two seats, a rollcage, and some hazard tape. But it’s also part of General Motors’ effort to recast itself as a viable, environmentally friendly automaker and maybe, just maybe, a glimpse at the future of urban transportation.

“We’re talking about zero emissions, renewable energy; a vehicle that’s safe to use in the environment its intended for, and less stress because you’re not stuck in traffic jams as much,” said Christopher Borroni-Bird, GM’s director of advanced technology vehicle concepts.

The prototype, which is being demonstrated in New York today, is part of Project P.U.M.A (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility), a partnership between GM and Segway. Powered by lithium-ion batteries, it’s about half the length of a Smart car, has a top speed of 35 mph, and a range of up to 25 miles. GM says it would cost only 25-30 percent as much to own and operate as a conventional car.

The powertrain and two-wheel balancing technology come from Segway. GM hopes to lend its expertise in manufacturing and exterior design, as well as its growing knowledge of lithium-ion batteries. Further down the line, it also sees P.U.M.A as a way to apply its research in vehicle-to-vehicle communications systems – cars that can drive them selves and synchronize with each other to ease the flow of traffic.;

Many automakers, from BMW to Mitsubishi to Mazda, have been pushing urban car concepts as a way to solve congestion and pollution problems in the world’s growing cities. For GM, there’s the added incentive of showing the government and the public that it’s capable of forward thinking.

Journalists will be given rides in the car today, and GM is promising a next generation vehicle we can drive later this year. We’ll be sure to keep you updated when that happens.