Saying Good-Bye to the Personal Transporter
With the resurgence of COVID-19, social unrest, and economic upheaval grabbing the share of news headlines lately, the demise of the personal transporter this month isn’t ranking at the top of the public’s consciousness.
Yet the demise of the Segway is a sad phenomenon. It’s one that reminds every would-be inventor that it doesn’t matter how environmentally friendly, revolutionary, or promising their device. Price it out of the common person’s range and your great idea will end up on the same scrapheap of history.
After all, were it not for generous tax credits and accompanying ballyhoo by the elites who think electric cars are so wonderful (even though they necessitate more coal burning to generate all that electricity), these “green” options may not have come as far as they have.
It still amazes me that in the early stages of electric vehicle development, environmental advocates were wondering why the public wasn’t rushing out to buy cars that often ran in the $35,000 to $40,000 neighborhood.
Even with the lure of a tax credit, the bulk of middle- and lower-income motorists shook their head and said, “No thanks.”
Not So Revolutionary Personal Transporter
The same is true of the two-wheeled Segway.
My first exposure to this-then-groundbreaking invention came nearly 20 years ago when I attended a trade show at the convention center in Indianapolis.
I was going down the hall to meet an associate when someone—I assume an employee of the facility—came whizzing by. He was making much better time on his Segway than I was on my old-fashioned feet.
“Wow,” I thought. “Wonder if I could use one of those to get around town?”
After I returned home and poked around online, I discovered what it would cost to acquire one of these fossil fuel-free transporters: $5,000.
Suddenly, it became an impractical and way too expensive option. For that price, I could have bought a used car that wouldn’t be restricted to warm weather use.
The folks who could afford it—police departments and security operations—didn’t create a big enough market.
The sometimes awkwardness of the operation also hindered its growth.
The British billionaire who bought the Segway’s manufacturer died in 2009 after he accidentally careened off a 30-feet cliff while riding one.
Former President George W. Bush also tumbled off a Segway in 2003 while on vacation in Maine, though fortunately he escaped serious injury.
Some cities even banned the use these types of personal transporter because of the prospect of losing control if the riders weren’t balanced properly.
“What did they think the market was when they built it, when they designed it?” asked automotive consultant Maryann Keller.
“My impression was they were talking about this as personal mobility. How could you think that something this large and expensive would be personal mobility?”
Adapting for Success
Of course, the market for personal mobility hasn’t vanished with the Segway’s failure.
The same HuffPost story that chronicled its demise mentioned how light, inexpensive two-wheeled scooters took over urban streets in 2017; a year later riders took 38.5 million trips on shared electric scooters.
The scooter manufacturers figured out what Segway never did: provide the masses with a device they can not only use, but afford, and they’ll buy it.
After all, if Henry Ford hadn’t come up with a way for common people to own Model Ts, we might still be riding horses down Main Street.