Memo to PR: All the free media hype and political goodwill you can muster doesn’t guarantee your product offering will sell like Gameboys when it hits the market.
Nearly a year has passed since entrepreneur Dean Kamen unveiled the Segway, a zero-pollution 83-pound self-balancing battery-operated scooter that putts along at a max speed of 12.5 miles per hour and lists for $5,000. But the contraption (once nicknamed Ginger) that looks like a monster pogo stick riding on two wheels hasn’t become an urban commuter’s vehicle of choice since it started selling last December.
Kamen’s dream of transforming the way we get around hasn’t materialized yet. For one thing, Segway’s business plan called for rolling out the scooters to commercial customers first. The U.S. Postal Service, GE Plastics and the Atlanta Regional Commission are a few that have bought Segways (the company does not release sales figures).
The success of the Manchester, N.H.-based company, also called Segway, will depend on how many more units these kinds of organizations end up buying, says Marketing Director Tobe Cohen. The company plans to offer limited public test drives in early 2003, although its original launch was scheduled for fall 2002.
Segway’s success on the regulatory front, meanwhile, is moving at warp speed. So far, 31 states have passed laws allowing the devices on walkways, according to Segway. In March, U.S. Sen. Robert Smith (R-N.H.) introduced a bill that allows them on federally funded sidewalks. It awaits a Senate vote.
Back to the scooters. The Segway can carry a user weighing up to 250 pounds plus 75 pounds of cargo. Using gyroscopes and tilt sensors, the Segway’s speed and direction is based on the rider’s movements; when he leans forward, the vehicle moves forward, and if he pulls back, it stops.
Segway Project Manager Bob McCord of the Atlanta Regional Commission, a Georgia planning agency, says his group has saved time using its two Segways to travel to meetings and run errands downtown. The things still cause a rubberneck effect when McCord or his coworkers ride around Atlanta. “We get a variety of reactions,” McCord says. “A lot of people start to get worked up when they see it, wondering, Hey, where can I get one of those?”