You know how the oil companies are all trying to become energy companies now? The new PUMA (aka, the Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility Project) from GM and Segway shows one way that auto companies could shift over to being transportation companies if they wanted to. At an unveiling of the enclosed Segway for two this morning in Manhattan, GM and Segway reps talked about how the PUMA represents a big evolution of the automobile. GM vice president of research and development Larry Burns said the PUMA "is about fundamentally reinventing the automobile"
Burns said that the PUMA is a descendant of the AUTOnomy skateboard platform (which gave us the Chevy Sequel) and is pretty much the anti-HUMMER. In fact, Burns called the HUMMER the "extreme overdesign in personal transport," hinting that the PUMA represents the opposite tack.
The battery-powered PUMA is wholly functional, and we're still trying to figure out if it's more or less dorky looking than a Segway. Whatever the case, we still kind of like the two- (or six-, depending on how you're counting) wheeled design and are looking forward to the fall, when the media will actually be able to test drive the little buggers and next year, when some models with body panels and stylish looks arrive -- yes, the renderings that GM showed today do look a little like a Toyota i-swing with two wheels. The PUMA is 1/6th the size of a standard cars (and half the size of a Smart Fortwo) and should be about a third or a fourth the cost of a normal vehicle to operate, including insurance, running costs, etc.
Jim Norrod, CEO of Segway Inc. said that with two wheels, you get "unparralled" maneuverability. This thing can really turn on a dime. With a top speed of 35 mph, a 35-mile range, and the ability to recharge for 35 cents (or so GM says), there's got to be a market for city dwellers who think bikes are a good idea, but just too sweaty. For more, see GM's press release from last night.
Two videos, including one form our friends at Engadget, are available after the jump.