When the classic Segway was launched in 2001, it was one of the most exciting transportation devices around. I don’t remember many technological products generating as much hype as Segway’s Human Transporter did at the time, with the late Steve Jobs even predicting that it would be as “big a deal” as the PC.
Dean Kamen, the inventor of the self-balancing scooter (if you could call it that) embraced the hype, saying that it “will be to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy”. However, the story hasn’t quite unfolded like that for Segway—or for Kamen.
Having sold the company in 2009, Segway is currently owned by Chinese company Ninebot. Early predictions for millions of sold units proved largely unfounded, with only 140,000 units sold in total since 2001.
And now, Fast Company reports that production of the Segway Personal Transporter (the signature model) will end, with 21 employees from the company’s New Hampshire manufacturing plant laid off. The plant isn’t actually closing, and there will be a few employees to be kept on to help with warranties and repairs, as well as other Segway models like the Discovery.
Why did Segway’s classic scooter not succeed?
The clearest barrier that Segway had to overcome was the high price of the Personal Transporter. At launch, it was sold at US$5,000 (~RM21,395)—roughly the price of a used car in Malaysia. This, of course, meant that the Personal Transporter was always going to have an uphill challenge to reach the early expectations.
However, Judy Cai also says that the quality and durability of the PT was partly to blame, saying that 12-year old models continued to work well enough, even with over 100,000km on the clock. As such, the company’s sales (and revenue) dwindled, with the Personal Transporter accounting for only 1.5 percent of Segway (and parent company Ninebot)’s overall revenue.
Something else to consider is that the novelty of the design hasn’t really worn off, despite the twenty odd years that have passed since its release. Unlike cheaper alternatives such as manual kick scooters, the learning curve for the Segway PT is still rather steep—and this is something that Segway has failed to address.
Segway will live on… with Ninebot
Regardless, Segway’s innovation cannot be denied. And with parent company Ninebot continuing to grow their 70 percent market share in the global e-scooter market, Segway’s idea will live on in Ninebot’s products. According to Fast Company, Segway still holds 1,000 active patents for self-balancing tech, which will continue to be built on by the Chinese company for future products.
And if you’re interested to see how the company builds on this technology with its new products, click here to read about the Segway-Ninebot GoKart Pro.
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