Two wheels are the future says GM

Car giant GM and electric transport specialist Segway are developing a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle designed to be a clean city alternative to traditional cars.

The project also involves a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact, regulate the flow of traffic and prevent crashes from happening.

“We’re excited about doing more with less,” said Jim Norrod, chief executive of Segway, the Bedford, New Hampshire-based maker of electric scooters. “Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space.”

The 300-pound Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility, or PUMA, prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway’s characteristic two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It is designed to reach speeds of up to 35mph and can run 35 miles on a charge.

The companies did not give a price but said the could would be between a quarter fourth and a third of the average traditional vehicle.

Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, and strategic planning, said the project was part of GM’s effort to remake itself as a producer of fuel-efficient vehicles.

Ideally, the vehicles would also be part of a communications network that through the use of transponder and GPS technology would allow them to drive themselves. The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash, Mr Burns said.

As a result, the PUMA vehicles would not need air bags or other traditional safety devices and include safety belts for “comfort purposes” only, he said.

Though the technology and its goals may seem like something out of science fiction, Mr Burns said nothing new needs to be invented for it to become a reality.

“At this point, it’s merely a business decision,” he said.

The ambitious announcement comes at a time when GM’s future is hanging by a thread after receiving billions of dollars in federal aid and is in the midst of a vast restructuring that could still lead to a filing for bankruptcy protection.

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