Why Did Segway Fail? What Happened To Segway

  • 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.

Origin Story

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.” This, he hoped, would also help the two-wheeled transporter revolutionize the way cities were laid out and how people moved through them.

Just six years later, the PT had 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 commonly seen on motorcycle riders, for example.

Eventually, transport authorities did step in and enforce certain rules for Segway use.

Poor pricing strategy

Segway RTs were initially priced at $5,000, a hefty price to pay 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.

Impracticality 

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 to be a device that invited mockery, which no doubt impacted sales and public perception.

Poor market research

Like many products that promise to revolutionize the world, the company ended up releasing an invention and not an innovation

The RT was kept a secret until launch and there was little if any 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.

Competition

In 2017, electric scooter companies such as Bird and Lime effectively sealed the fate of the Segway.

The scooters, which are controlled by an app, are a much cheaper (and somewhat safer) form of personal transportation in cities.

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