Seems like the Tata Nano has influenced companies around the world. US carmaker General Motors is joining with scooter maker Segway to make a new type of two-seat electric vehicle. The prototype, which will be debuted in New York, is aimed at urban driving. GM aims to start making them by 2012.
The venture is called Project PUMA, for Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility. The companies hope to recruit partners, such as cities or colleges, to set up Puma travel lanes, like bicycle lanes. They'd be used to test the vehicles and their on-board wireless communicators designed to keep them safely apart and even operate them while drivers do other tasks.
The Pumas also could be operated manually. Not intended for highway use, they would hit about 35 miles per hour (56 kmph) and go up to 35 miles on a full charge, which in turn would cost around 35 cents. The Puma will be about half the size of the smallest car sold in America, Daimler AG's Smart. (See: smart fortwo: the word's most eco-friendly car with the lowest CO2 emission )
The largest US automaker is trying to develop the Chevrolet Volt plug-in electric car and sell its Hummer sport-utility brand as it seeks as much as $16.6 billion in additional federal aid. (See: GM to sell Hummer SUV brand; close four truck plants/ General Motors to electrify car market in 2010 with the Chevrolet Volt)
GM is developing the electronic wireless systems for safe, autonomous operation. Segway is responsible for the self-balancing, electric, two-wheel chassis. The prototype has "training wheels" front and rear, helpful at stoplights. Pumas would use lithium-ion batteries, like those Segway uses in its stand-up scooters.
"There's no technology that has to be invented here. It's really just putting the pieces together," said Chris Borroni-Bird, director of the project for GM. Nonetheless it could take years to get to market. "It's not going on sale anytime" soon, he added.
Though being unveiled in New York, the Pumas might appeal most in densely packed cities in places such as India and China, Borroni-Bird said. There they would seem a big step up from bicycles. Americans, who are used to cars, might not take them as seriously.
Its 17 February restructuring plan was rejected by President Barack Obama's automotive task force and gave Detroit-based GM 60 days to craft a new plan or restructure in bankruptcy. The task force's refusal also prompted the resignation of GM CEO Rick Wagoner. (See: GM CEO steps down as Obama denies additional funds)
''We happen to believe this is very consistent with the direction President Obama and the task force have outlined,'' said Larry Burns, GM vice president for research and development. ''People might just want one because it's cool, it's fun and it's safe.''