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GM looks to a smaller future

Balancing act: GM and Segway have hit the streets of New York with the Puma concept for city commuting.

Troubled Detroit giant teams up with Segway to redesign city mobility

8 Apr 2009

GENERAL Motors appears eager to try any possible new product to drag itself out of the financial mire that threatens to drag it into bankruptcy.

Combining with the Segway personal transportation company, GM has come up with a radical proposal for city transportation that has only two wheels – side by side.

Looking a lot like a motorised rickshaw, the Puma – Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle – is essentially a two-person version of the original Segway two-wheeled scooter, but with seats instead of a standing platform.

Able to balance on two wheels when in motion thanks to the use of Segway’s unique dynamic stabilisation technology, Puma uses a lithium-ion battery to power all on-board systems: acceleration, steering and braking through the use of two in-wheel motors, vehicle-to-vehicle communication and autonomous driving and parking.

GM and Segway claim the Puma has a range of 56km and can travel at speeds of up to 56km/h, both of which should be enough to satisfy most daily commuters.

GM’s resident big-thinker, Larry Burns (vice-president of research and development and strategic planning), reckons the Puma could be the answer to transport problems at a time when more than half the world’s population already lives in cities.

“Imagine small, nimble electric vehicles that know where other moving objects are and avoid running into them,” he said when unveiling the Puma in New York on Tuesday.

“Now, connect those vehicles in an Internet-like web and you can greatly enhance the ability of people to move through cities, find places to park and connect to their social and business networks.”

 center imageFrom top: Segway Puma, Cadillac Converj concept and Buick LaCrosse.

The Puma uses much less energy than a four-wheeled vehicle, has zero emissions when recharged with renewable energy and its running costs would be between 25 and 33 per cent of those for a normal car, including purchase price, insurance and running costs.

The collaboration between GM and Segway may have more to it than just a cute two-wheeled prototype, as Segway is a sizeable producer of lithium-ion batteries, having delivered 60,000 in its relatively short history.

GM is developing the lithium-ion battery for Chevrolet Volt electric-petrol hybrid when it is released in 2010 (2012 in Australia), but pundits are already pointing to a shortage of lithium-ion batteries when the age of the electric car dawns.

The biggest US auto-maker’s unexpected personal mobility device is among the most interesting reveals from GM at the New York show, where the former number-one global auto-maker is presenting new production vehicles from Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC and Saab.

GM is again showing its Volt-based Cadillac Converj luxury EV concept, while Buick has its redesigned 2010 Buick LaCrosse luxury sedan, which goes on sale in the US and China from mid-2009.

GMC is displaying its 2009 Sierra Hybrid, which offers a claimed 40 per cent city economy improvement, while GM’s Buick-GMC-Pontiac channel also is showing recently released models in the Pontiac G3, G6, (Commodore-based) G8 GXP and Solstice Coupe.

Apart from the Converj, GM luxury brand Cadillac is using New York to unveil the 2010 SRX Crossover, featuring new, smaller engines and a new all-wheel-drive system, and the 2010 CTS Sport Wagon, which is due on sale in the US in May and was to have joined the CTS on sale in Australia, before Holden cancelled Cadillac’s local reintroduction.

Chevrolet brought its 2010 Chevrolet Equinox SUV to the Big Apple, where it is also showcasing its Volt plug-in hybrid, Camaro coupe and 2011 Cruze sedan, which was due on sale in Australia this month.

Expected to be joined here by a Holden-design and built five-door hatchback version in 2010, the Cruze sedan will be available in the US with 1.8-litre and turbocharged 1.4-litre petrol engines, both mated to a six-speed automatic transmission.

Chevrolet also is showing its 2011 Spark, GM’s new global A-segment contender that is under consideration for Australia if Suzuki’s sub-Swift micro-car pioneer proves successful from August.

Finally, GM’s troubled Swedish affiliate Saab, which this week announced 20 parties had expressed interest in buying it, gave the 9-3X crossover its US debut. Making its global premiere at Geneva last month, the 9-3X is also under consideration for Australia.

Read more:

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