- The Segway was a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter invented by Dean Kamen and launched in 2001. Sales were abysmal after launch, with the company acquired by a Chinese start-up that announced production would cease in 2020.
- Segway was a fundamentally safe form of personal transportation but suffered reputational damage from several high-profile accidents. Many Segway riders were simply unaware of the protection required to ride two-wheeled vehicles.
- Segway RTs were overpriced and impractical. With most cities designed for either pedestrian or large vehicles, the Segway lacked both the infrastructure and necessary regulation to become a form of mass transportation. Cheaper and more practical electric scooters sealed the fate of the company after they were released in 2017.
|Invention and Hype||Segway, invented by Dean Kamen, was unveiled in 2001 as a revolutionary personal transportation device. It was promoted as a breakthrough in mobility, offering a unique and efficient way for individuals to move around cities and urban areas. The Segway generated significant media attention and was considered one of the most highly anticipated inventions of its time.|
|High Price Tag||One of the primary challenges that Segway faced was its high price tag. The Segway PT (Personal Transporter) was initially priced at around $5,000, making it unaffordable for many consumers. The device was positioned as a premium mode of transportation, limiting its accessibility to a niche market, such as police departments and tour companies. The high cost hindered its widespread adoption and consumer appeal.|
|Limited Use Cases||Segway’s marketing highlighted various potential use cases, including commuting and tourism, but it struggled to find a compelling and widespread application. Consumers found it difficult to integrate the Segway into their daily routines, as it often competed with traditional modes of transportation, like bicycles and walking. Additionally, regulatory hurdles in some cities further restricted its use on sidewalks and roads.|
|Safety Concerns||Safety concerns also posed challenges for the Segway. Reports of accidents and injuries involving the device led to increased scrutiny and regulatory restrictions in some areas. Critics argued that the Segway’s design did not adequately address safety issues, particularly in crowded urban environments. Safety perceptions and regulatory challenges further limited its adoption and market penetration.|
|Ownership Changes||Segway Inc. underwent multiple ownership changes throughout its history. After its initial launch, the company struggled financially and filed for bankruptcy in 2009. It was subsequently acquired by a British company, and later, in 2015, by a Chinese technology firm called Ninebot. Under new ownership, Segway continued to produce personal transporters and explored new markets, such as electric scooters and mobility solutions.|
|Evolving Product Line||Over the years, Segway expanded its product line beyond the original PT. The company introduced various electric scooters, hoverboards, and electric bikes, attempting to capitalize on the growing popularity of electric mobility devices. These products aimed to address different market segments and applications. While some of these products gained popularity, the Segway PT remained the iconic but niche offering.|
|Decline of Segway PT||Despite efforts to revitalize the brand and develop new products, the Segway PT continued to face challenges in the market. By the mid-2010s, it had become clear that the Segway PT had not achieved the mass adoption envisioned at its launch. In June 2020, Segway announced that it would discontinue production of the Segway PT, marking the end of an era for the original personal transporter.|
|Legacy and Impact||The Segway PT, while not achieving the initial hype and expectations, left a lasting legacy in the field of personal transportation and mobility. It played a role in advancing electric vehicle technology and contributed to the development of electric scooters and other micro-mobility solutions. The Segway brand also remained synonymous with the concept of self-balancing personal transporters.|
|Acquisition by Ninebot||Following the discontinuation of the Segway PT, the brand lives on under Ninebot, which continues to produce electric scooters and other mobility products. Ninebot’s acquisition of Segway allowed it to consolidate its position as a major player in the global micro-mobility market. The acquisition and subsequent evolution of Segway reflect the shifting landscape of urban transportation and the ongoing pursuit of innovative mobility solutions.|
The Segway is a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter invented by Dean Kamen and launched in 2001 as the Segway PT.
The transporter arrived on the scene with much fanfare, with consumers curious and eager to ride a device that looked like it belonged in a sci-fi movie.
Upon its release, Kamen believed:
“the Segway HT will do for walking, what the calculator did for pad and pencil. Get there quicker. You’ll go further.”
He hoped this would also help the two-wheeled transporter revolutionize how cities were laid out and how people moved through them.
Six years later, PT achieved only 1% of its sales target. Kamen hoped to sell half a million units per year, but after six years had sold a mere 30,000.
The company was later acquired by Ninebot, Inc., with the Chinese robotics start-up announcing it would discontinue production in June 2020.
What went wrong?
Consumer novelty and safety regulations
Steve Jobs famously warned Kamen the Segway’s image could be ruined by a single rider falling off and hurting themselves.
In 2003, press photographers captured President George W. Bush dismounting from his Segway during a family vacation.
Piers Morgan, a notable British journalist, also had a fall in 2007 and broke three ribs in the process.
In June 2010, Segway company owner James Heselden died after riding his Segway off a cliff and into a river.
It’s important to note that the Segway was not an inherently dangerous form of transportation.
Instead, many who were accustomed to driving cars were simply unaware of the safety gear required to operate a two-wheeled vehicle.
Most barely wore a helmet, let alone the protective gear is commonly seen on motorcycle riders, for example.
Eventually, transport authorities stepped in and enforced certain Segway use rules.
Poor pricing strategy
Segway RTs were initially priced at $5,000, a hefty price to avoid walking and equivalent to buying a reliable used car.
Some suggest the company should have offered the Segway on a pay-per-use basis.
However, this would have been difficult since smartphones and smartphone apps had yet to achieve critical mass.
To some extent, the Segway was impractical.
It was small enough to fit inside an elevator, but its 100-pound bulk made it impractical for buildings with stairs.
It also occupied a somewhat awkward gap in the personal transportation market.
With most cities designed for pedestrians and large vehicles but nothing in between, there was no infrastructure to support the Segway as a form of mass transportation.
In many countries, it was banned from sidewalks and roads because authorities didn’t know how to classify it.
Early adopters were also called fat and lazy and felt they should have been walking instead.
Many consumers considered the Segway a device that invited mockery, which undoubtedly impacted sales and public perception.
Poor market research
Like many products that promise to revolutionize the world, the company released an invention, not an innovation.
The RT was kept a secret until launch, and there was little consideration given to user feedback and testing.
History will also show that the inventors failed to identify a viable target market.
This point is related to impracticality and Segway’s failure to identify a compelling reason for a consumer to shell out $5,000.
In 2017, electric scooter companies such as Bird and Lime effectively sealed the fate of the Segway.
The scooters, controlled by an app, are a much cheaper (and somewhat safer) form of personal transportation in cities.
- The Segway was a two-wheeled, self-balancing personal transporter invented by Dean Kamen and launched in 2001. It suffered from abysmal sales after launch.
- Despite being fundamentally safe, the Segway suffered reputational damage from high-profile accidents, often due to rider ignorance of necessary safety gear.
- Segway RTs were overpriced and impractical, lacking the necessary infrastructure and regulation to become a popular form of mass transportation.
- Poor pricing strategy, impracticality, and a lack of market research contributed to the Segway’s downfall.
- The rise of cheaper and more practical electric scooters, such as Bird and Lime, further sealed the fate of the Segway.
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