April 8, 2009 Straight out of left field, General Motors and personal mobility pioneer Segway have revealed a two-wheel, two-seater prototype vehicle they’ve code named Project P.U.M.A (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility). The self-balancing electric “car” is designed to transport two adults in a seated position, and can travel up to 25 and 35 miles (40 - 56 km) powered by large format lithium-ion batteries on as little as $0.60 worth of electricity.

The 300 lb (136 kg) zero-emissions vehicle has a top speed of 35 mph (56kph) and is powered by two electric wheel motors. The control system is based on the original Segway with dynamic balancing and drive-by-wire for acceleration, steering, and braking. It also features vehicle-to-vehicle communications, digital smart energy management and a dockable user interface that allows off-board connectivity.

The PUMA will be on display this week at the GM stand of the New York Auto Show. Pricing wasn't announced but is expected to be one-fourth to one-third the cost of what you pay to own and operate today's automobile. GM said it hopes to have the vehicle in production by 2012. The Segway Personal Transporter debuted with great fanfare in 2001, and has found a niche market, but failed to "be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy," as its inventor, Dean Kamen, predicted. We're not sure that what is effectively a two seater electric wheel chair with a roll cage will fair any better but it's encouraging to see GM actively working on electric vehicles with wheel motors and drive-by-wire automated dynamic controls. It will be interesting to see if those developments are incorporated into more conventional GM electric vehicles in the future.

Paul Evans