A Stop Gap Between Vespa And Smart Car?

Ian Sacs's picture

Posted today on CNN, optimistically under "SPECIAL REPORT – Detroit's Downfall", was a brief about GM and personal transport company Segway collaborating on a project called "Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility" (P.U.M.A.).  Along with some future-thinking gush about vehicle interconnectivity are eye candy photos of the traditional Seqway chassis redesigned as a side-by-side two-seater with a degree of weather protection and other accommodations to make the vehicle a tad more practical than the original stand-up version.  For those who find the Smart car a tad dumb on the bang:buck ratio but are not about to don a helmet and go the scooter route, the P.U.M.A. may offer a new market segment.


This vehicle is not the first contemporary venture into the weird space between scooters and cars.  Earlier this decade BMW prototyped a quirky in-line two-wheeler with wrap-over windshield and climate control.  The ZEM (Zero Emissions Machine) is a four-seater bicycle that can get over 20mph if everyone chips in.  Golf carts are king in many warmer climate American communities, particularly in Arizona and Florida where revitalized cities ask for "exclusive golf cart parking spaces" worked into their downtown circulation studies.  In Manhattan, I regularly see a happy couple zipping about in a golf cart on even the coldest winter mornings.  American bicycle shops usually offer at least one dusty model of electric-assist bikes made in, and seen whisking along the wide city sidewalks of, China.  In 2007, Vespa debuted a three-wheeled scooter (two wheels up front) that didn't require riders to put their feet down at stops.  Even the original Seqway itself was lauded as the savior of personal mobility with such fanfare at its release that the random encounter with these vehicles carting police officers or guided tours smacks with irony.  While professionals in both the engineering and marketing departments understand the potential for these vehicles to fill a gap in urban environments where trips are short, the general public has not yet become similarly smitten.

One must wonder why.  Is a two-seater vehicle lacking too much in versatility?  Do they cost too much?  Fear of theft/vandalism?  Are they seen as toys and not taken seriously?  Do more Hollywood stars need to use them?  Surely it's a combination of these and other reasons, but the possibility still exists that someday, someone is going to figure out the right formula for this kind of transport and city streets will swarm with a smaller, tamer, more rational form of motorized transport.  Of course, if public perception of the bicycle could be shifted from that of a recreational toy to a practical commuter vehicle, this segment may not be necessary at all.  But for now our craving is apparently for something a little less scooter and a little more car.

Ian Sacs, P.E. is a worldwide transportation solutions consultant based in Finland.



PUMA needs dedicated lane

Ian, I have figured out the right formula for this kind of transport - dedicated lanes. The new Segway Car is a great idea - so are all of the electric scooters (E-bikes) already on the market. The only problem is, according to the NHTSA, when compared to the automobile motorcycle/scooter transport is substantially more dangerous. Per vehicle mile traveled in 2006, motorcyclists/scooter riders were about 35 times more likely than passenger car occupants to die in a motor vehicle traffic crash! That is why these small, efficient, affordable vehicles are not more popular - they are too dangerous!

In order for these small vehicles to catch on they need their own dedicated lanes (http://exclusivemotorcyclelanes.blogspot.com/). Around the world (England, Malaysia, Taiwan, Australia, etc..) urban areas are dedicating lanes to motorcycles, scooters and other small efficient vehicles. In the US, these lanes are rarely/never even discussed. If safety were improved there would be a tremendous opportunity to divert a large portion of the over 80% of commuter trips currently taken in Single Occupancy Vehicles to smaller, electric vehicles such as the PUMA or E-bikes....

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

Ian Sacs's picture

dedicated lanes

duane, good point that safety is a major reason these vehicles are not taking off. dedicated lanes is an interesting concept because these vehicles just don't fit into either traditional car or bicycle lanes for various reasons. on the streets of china, electric bikes are forbidden in the bike path (although this rule is often disobeyed), but they are helpless when driven on the enormous, six lane arterials in some younger cities. of course the case for yet another dedicated lane is a geometric challenge because rights-of-way are already squeezed between sidewalks, bike lanes, bus lanes, and regular travel lanes. the latest post on your blog about motorcyclists sharing the bus lane in london is interesting because it suggest that perhaps the solution is not to have a long list of exclusive mode lanes, but to have a standard tavel lane as well as an "alternate" lane that is shared by the modes which deserve priority or are not ready (due to lack of driver familiarity or safety) for using the standard lanes. paris does something similar with their shared bus/bike lanes. it might be that this simple split allows marginalized vehicles (whether they are buses, bikes, scooters, or seqways) to find a safer zone while not overcomplicating the cross section.

dedicated lanes

I think you are on to something. Do you have a name for these multipurpose lanes? How about Green Lanes (e-bikes/scooters, transit, PUMAs, etc...)?

Exclusive Motorcycle Lanes (EML)

Ian Sacs's picture

priority lanes

how about "Priority Lanes"? contrasted to standard lanes, priority lanes designate that users in this group are allowed preference for multiple reasons, such as compact form, low or no emissions, high passenger capacity, etc. they get the advance at signalized intersections, are first to receive roadway improvement funds, and are not subject to tolls (or reduced tolls) at congestion pricing cordons.

Lots of in-between alternatives


There are lots of in-between alternatives that can be considered. One category is called "dualmode" which serves vehicles that can be operated on an exclusive guideway, fully or partially automated, as well as on the conventional street system. PUMA could evolve into fully capable dualmode vehicle over time. MIT's CityCar could also be used this way. Other dualmode systems now being developed include the Danish RUF system, TriTrack, Higher Way, MicroRail and several others. If you want to see descriptions and illustrations of the full range of next generation dualmode systems, google Innovative Transportation Technologies and look for "dualmode" and "dualmode debate" for the details.

Obama and Public Being Lied To By U.S. Automakers

It's all smoke & mirros. Believe that. China and Korea are far ahead of the U.S. in electric vehicles, parts and batteries.

U.S. automakers GM, FORD, Chrysler, Toyota and Honda could have already been selling inexpensive, 100% electric American-made cars, but they have intentionally refrained from doing such. In fact, GM already produced a good 100% electric car back in 1997: the EV-1, and ended up recalling them all - for no good reason - and shredded them in the California desert. This is no "internet rumour," but a fact forever memorialized in the movie, "Who Killed the Electric Car."

I sell 100% electric cars imported from China: http://www.corvuscars.com

For $14 billion, I can provide a quality electric car to replace each and every one of the 14 million gas-guzzlin,' oil-burnin,' fossil-fuel plants on wheels. You talk about a tangible! Obama should just put down his proud American Poppa routine for just long enough to purchase millions of 100% electric cars and put them on the road now; immediately impact our environment RIGHT NOW!!! Not one day, but now. America needs to build our own Great American electric vehicle, but the Big Three have no plans whatsoever to build a 100% electric car for under $40,000 a copy. GM specifically admitted such on their website, as has Chrysler.

The Chevy Volt story is a scam unto itself; I challenge you to check it out. The much-ballyhooed $7,500 federal tax credit was designed to help Americans purchase GM's gas-burnin', emission-belchin' $40,000+ Chevy Volt. Since GM knows they can't produce an all-electric vehicle for a profit, they did what they did with the Volt: GM kept the gas in the tank and the oil companies' hands in your wallet, while lobbying Congress enough to get them to pass the latest $7500 federal tax credit for a GM lobbist-defined alternative energy vehicle, which just happened to include the battery power of the Volt, yet the Volt switches to gas after only 40 miles of electric use. This is GM having their cake and eating it too. Instead of using the very few moving parts in an all-electric vehicle, GM continues to use hundreds and hundreds of traditional auto parts, from their traditonal auto-part suppliers in each of their gas-burnin' oil hogs. GM continues to deny America 100% electric vehicles; GM continues to deny Americans ZERO PER CENT EMISSIONS!!! GM continues to lie and deceive the American people about technology, production costs, profit margin requirements and their true corporate goals.

GM won't ever sell an all-electric vehicle for under $40,000 because to do so would mean the elimination of:

the elimination of acceptable corporate profit margins;
the elimination of hundreds and hundreds of traditional auto parts, auto parts suppliers and their employees;
the elimination of gasoline and oil from the budgets of all Americans;

My cars are from China, and kick the GM Chevy Volt in the ass. My manufacturer is a quality manufacturer. They've performed crash testing and extensive testing of their vehicles. They've been doing it for years now. My vehicles can go 120 miles at 45 MPH, or 170 miles at 25 MPH. Some of my all-electric vehicles could travel fast highway speeds, if DOT-approved. No gasoline or oil is involved whatsoever. No costly engine repairs, no oil changes, no emission tests.......zero, zero, zero. Again, GM and Chrysler are NOT going to eliminate their expensive auto part suppliers, their unionized workers, their expensive executive salaries, their gasoline and oil-based profit margins. GM has admitted they just cannot survive - they just can't make it selling a true, 100% electric vehicle. It's a shame President Obama cannot see this hard reality. He's still playing footsie with these criminal enterprises; Obama just handed out FIVE BILLION DOLLARS to U.S. automakers to pay their auto suppliers for parts already received.



America is just too proud to import that many foreign vehicles. Too bad, because within one year, America could virtually ELIMINATE ALL THE GREENHOUSE GASES created annually by America's 14 million gas and oil-burnin' cars and trucks. America could reduce foreign oil imports by at least 75% or more. At the rate America's automakers are deceiving the American people, 20 years from now, the Big Three will STILL have America driving oil & gas-burnin' "hybrids." ..........and THAT'S WHY a small-timer like me can do what I do with Corvus 100% electric cars.

Obama's $5 BILLION auto-supplier support program

The suppliers borrow against the pymts. received from the automakers.

The automakers haven't made their pymts. to their auto parts suppliers.

This program is funded from the TARP money; this American Auto Parts Supplier Bailout Program is to guarantee the pymts. for auto parts that have already been shipped to American automakers.

Auto part suppliers usually borrow against their receivables, but the banks de-valued those receivables.

I call them "criminal enterprises" because the Big Three have lied and deceived and denied technology they could have provided the American people long ago, but have opted out for profits, gas-guzzlin', oil-burnin', fossil-fuel carbon plants on wheels and pollution-laden American cities.

My cars are limited by state laws and federal goverment regulations.

Currently, I can sell my 100% electric vehicles only as an LSV, or NEVs, which is a "Low-Speed Vehicle." or "Neighborhood Electric Vehicle." See, http://www.corvuscars.com/lsv.htm

Until I can come up with the two million dollars or so I need to pay for DOT testing to facilitate my cars to be sold and driven at highway speeds on federal highways, Corvus Cars are limited to the lower federal standard, "LSV."
Once I get DOT approval for my models, I can sell them in the traditional American automotive market; i.e., highway cars at highway speeds.

Let's STOP importing foreign oil and START IMPORTING 100% electric vehicles now, to save our environment and significantly reduce our dependence on OPEC nations and their foreign oil.

Here's my two-cents worth here: http://www.corvuscars.com/ecostatement.htm

Here's the all-electric buses I offer that should replace America's gasoline and diesel buses.

thank you, Ron Harold CEO Corvus Cars Ltd.
Denver, Co.


Ouch ... looking at that

Ouch ... looking at that tiny front wheel on the thing makes me cringe! Looking at the one on the back (are you meant to use that for reversing?) is even worse! I have to say, I love the focus on environmental friendliness. But I don't think this will find a huge market segment. The Smart Car is enormously efficient, offers complete weather protection, your mechanic will be much more familiar with fixing the Smart Car, and doesn't look horrible. Well, 'as' horrible... And I'm not sure how this compares more favorably to the Smart Car on the bang:buck ratio.

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