Electric two-wheelers driving force for future

A SOLUTION to the world’s urban transportation problems could lie in two wheels not four, according to executives for car maker General Motors and scooter maker Segway.

The companies announced yesterday they are working together to develop a two-wheeled, two-seat electric vehicle designed to be a fast, safe, inexpensive and clean alternative to traditional vehicles in cities .

The Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility (PUMA) project also would involve a vast communications network that would allow vehicles to interact with each other, 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 Hamshire-based maker of electric scooters. “Less emissions, less dependability on foreign oil and less space.”

The 300-pound prototype runs on a lithium-ion battery and uses Segway’s two-wheel balancing technology, along with dual electric motors. It’s designed to reach speeds of up to 55km-per-hour and can run 55km on a single charge.

The companies did not release a projected cost for the vehicle, but said ideally its total operating cost — including purchase price, insurance, maintenance and fuel — would total between a quarter and a third of that of the average traditional vehicle.

Larry Burns, GM’s vice president of research and development, and strategic planning, said the project is part of Detroit-based GM’s effort to remake itself as a purveyor of fuel- efficient vehicles. If Hummer took GM to the large vehicle extreme, Burns said, the PUMA takes GM to the opposite extreme.

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 automatically. The vehicles would automatically avoid obstacles such as pedestrians and other cars and therefore never crash, Burns said.

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

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, adding there’s no timeline for production.

The 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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