Video: GM/Segway PUMA Says Man Max/Machine Min

April 7, 2009

Earlier Bengt Halvorson gave you the scoop about GM and Segway's joint venture that marks a sharp 180 from GM's business-as-usual mentality for the last three decades or so. The two-wheeled, "dynamically balanced" (massive gyroscopes keep it upright just as in a Segway) vehicle comes with extremely bold claims, but this video shows that the prototype is a fully-working vehicle that's more than just vaporware. In fact, this is far more real world motion than we've ever seen from the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.

In addition to the zero emissions benefit of electric propulsion, the small size of the PUMA could greatly ease parking in cities like New York where only 1/4 of the population owns a car. But a scary thought is that PUMA could become the Tata Nano of New York; will resolutely independent New Yorkers abandon the subway and fight for dominance with Taxis on already crowded roadways?

PUMA prototype

PUMA prototype

Enlarge Photo

Also, at the end of the video, my heart froze as a Jetsons-style animated traffic grid of the future showed dozens of little transportation pods careening through huge intersections in a breathtaking dance of near-misses. GM claims onboard electronics will interface with other vehicles, making collisions a thing of the past. Automotive News calls these claims "a bit fanciful," and we tend to agree. Then again, Elon Musk claims the "7-passenger" 2011 Tesla Model S will get 300 miles on one charge, house two children in its sloping hatchback, and all but cook your breakfast, so the brave new world of alternative transportation is full of wild promises. The truth probably lies somewhere south, but it all still marks significant, laudable progress.

To me, PUMA harks back to a day when GM really did make a host of motors that were, well, general. They powered trains, tanks, helped develop the first artificial heart, and even dabbled in, I believe, a few household appliances along the way. The General has long housed an arsenal of brilliant engineers; unleashing their design acumen on a range of products other than Escalades and milquetoast rental cars is frankly the right thing to do, and continues to pour forth in strong products like the 2010 Chevrolet Camaro and current-gen Chevrolet Malibu. For big business - especially the auto business - to thrive in this economy, we need serious diversification in the nation. GM, with some unlikely product reinventions, will do it.

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