Larry Burns is “extraordinarily paranoid,” and he should be. The head of General Motors’ advanced research operations confides that he’s tracking at least 20 potential competitors who could revolutionize the automobile, much the way Apple’s iPhone did to home entertainment, and the PC did to big mainframe computers.
“Anyone betting on the status quo better think twice,” Burns told me following a news conference in New York City, Tuesday. That well-attended event allowed GM to lift the covers on its new PUMA – or Personal Urban Mobility and Accessibility vehicle – which it developed in cooperation with one of those 20 potentially disruptive players, Segway.
PUMA utilizes much of the basic technology behind Segway’s Personal Transporter, or PT, the little scooter you’ll see on college campuses and at airports around the country. The PT was initially hailed as a revolution, on its own, but its hefty, $5,400 pricetag, the fact that you have to stand up, and that there’s no shelter from the elements have all relegated the otherwise cutting-edge device to a low-volume niche. But working together, GM and Segway are aiming to demonstrate that the underlying technology could, in the words of Burns, “revolutionize urban transportation.”