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GM’s Project PUMA provides an affordable, safe alternative to the traditional passenger car, if the technology conundrums of connectivity and vehicle charging can be overcome

The Story Behind PUMA

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Segway (www.segway.com) has joined forces with GM to create yet another innovation designed to change the way urban dwellers traverse their congested cities. Project PUMA (Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility) is centered on developing two-seat, electric-powered pods that can address the challenges of traffic congestion and fuel consumption that have commonly plagued those who reside in heavily populated areas. Roughly 1/6 the size of a conventional midsize sedan, PUMA uses the same basic components found on Segway’s PT stand-up transporter—the lithium-ion based electric drive system, dynamic stabilization, steering and braking systems—although the vehicle can accommodate two passengers in a protected environment at speeds up to 25 mph with a range of up to 25 miles.
 
PUMA concept development began in October 2007 at Segway’s research and development operations. The company began discussions with GM on a partnership after the two companies worked together on the Opel Flexstream concept that debuted at the Frankfurt Motor Show in 2007 (see AD&P, November 2007; The 2007 Frankfurt Motor Show). “We were developing the rolling chassis…but we sought out GM as a partner once we saw their vision of vehicle connectivity and their work on autonomous driving, not to mention their manufacturing and technical knowledge to get a product like this to market. We’re going to deliver the rolling chassis element and they’re going to fit it with a coach,” says Phil LeMay, vice president of advanced technology and development at Segway.
 
While the initial PUMA concept is rather crude—there’s no body, just a basic chassis—GM expects its design team to come up with some interesting body styling concepts once the second-generation PUMA concept makes its debut later this year.
 
Production will be limited by the ability to develop a cohesive vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure network that link vehicles to each other, as well as pedestrians and other road users, to virtually eliminate accidents, which would be required to make PUMA a reality since its structure would not comply with FMVSS regulatory requirements. “We see a convergence of three infrastructures in the future: information, transportation and power,” says Chris Borroni-Bird, director of advanced vehicle concepts at GM, who notes the technology already exists to make this a reality, although convincing governments and other public entities to deploy such a network remains a significant obstacle.
 
PUMA may not take to U.S. roads anytime soon because of the complex regulatory environment, both companies admit. They envision the concept building its foundation in developing markets such as Mumbai, Shanghai, and Dubai, who might be willing to give PUMA a chance to succeed.