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If something is too
big, enlarging it
may correct it:
a skinny thing
acquires great force
pushed next to nothing.
-- "Immoderation" by A.R. Ammons
Skinny things among big ones may not live to see the morning.
Back in 2000, the world was aflame with excitement over Dean Kamen and his top-secret "Ginger" technology. "As big a deal as the PC," said Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) CEO Steve Jobs -- and Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN ) also backed the two-wheeled opportunity.
And then everything stopped. The Segway never made the big splash it was supposed to.
Now the Segway is back in the news with a well-known partner. General Motors (NYSE: GM ) plans to sell the PUMA -- a Segway-like mini-car for city traffic -- starting in 2012. Will this thing save both companies? Could Toyota (NYSE: TM ) and Honda (NYSE: HMC ) be left flat-footed by a confluence of genuine, all-American know-how?
I don't think so. At least, not in the form GM is planning to show this week. Let me put it this way: Would you drive a high-powered electric wheelchair in city traffic?
Didn't think so.
Kamen's intentions with the Segway were admirable, and still shine through in its GM-kissed incarnation: Remove bulky 4,000-pound machines from busy city streets and replace them with something far lighter, more efficient, and safer. But the safety goal looks far away right now.
If everybody had a "Segwrolet" or a "Saturway," then the problem would be solved. A high-tech navigation system plus extreme maneuverability are selling points, but the safety issue remains a concern. Run an Escalade into one of these contraptions and tell me who walks away. "Sorry, sir -- my forehead made a dent in your bumper."
Even a Corolla or a Nissan Motor (Nasdaq: NSANY ) Sentra looks fearsome when you're strapped into a tiny, one- or two-person people mover -- like this PUMA. Until the population of Seg-something drivers reaches critical mass, I don't see anyone really wanting one. It's the chicken-and-egg syndrome. This time, nothing comes out first.
Back to the lab again, guys. I know that Segway wants to go public, and maybe hopes to use this product as a springboard for those ambitions. Best of luck. I'm not holding my breath waiting for that IPO. The PUMA can't save anybody.
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