The original Segway is ceasing production next month
The personal transport solution that became an icon of the 00s is being killed off
Remember the Segway? If you do, you'll definitely remember how much hype there was leading up to its launch. The late Steve Jobs even said that the Segway would be a bigger deal than the first PCs. Now it's recently come out that this last bastion of the turn of the millennium's technological optimism will be bowing out for good. According to Fast Company the final two-wheeled Segway creation will be rolling out of the factory on July 15th.
The Segway was invented by Dean Kamen, who had become somewhat of a name already in the field of medical research thanks to his work on an insulin pump called AutoSyringe, the original Segway was unveiled to the public in December 2001 for $5,000 ($7,238 in today's money). After developing a game-changing wheelchair called the iBot that used self-balancing gyroscopes to raise its user to eye level and drive up a flight of stairs, Kamen realised the same gyroscopic technology could be used to make a fun, zippy two-wheeled personal transport that would be able to get people around a little bit faster than what they could manage under their own power. The slim and sleek machine that finally emerged seemed like the perfect solution for a city-dweller to use to get from their apartment block to their place of work.
Dean Kamen made incredible claims about the groundbreaking personal transport device at the time, claiming amongst other things that it would be "to the car what the car was to the horse and buggy." He also took to the Segway with a kind of enthusiasm that predicted the tech-bro behaviours of Elon Musk, making sure that he got himself and his new creation as much media attention as possible by zipping around on it whilst he was doing his rounds late at night. It was a recipe that drummed up an insane amount of publicity for the Segway, something that only accelerated further once TV shows and media people got hold of them. The fact that it was the steed of choice for the titular main character of the 2009 comedy film Paul Blart: Mall Cop (a film which has become a massive meme in recent times thanks to the internet) probably only helped things even further.
Segway had originally planned to sell 100,000 units within the first 13 months of production. Unfortunately, things didn't pan out that way. In the end, only 140,000 were sold in total. A lot of things have been blamed on the two-wheeled wonder's lack of success. Everything from the device having too much of a learning curve (today's electric kick scooters are much easier to get the hang of than the original Segway was) to the design never really evolving to the product being so over-engineered that people just didn't want to buy new units because the old ones carried on going and going forever has been cited. The latter of those two was the explanation given by Segway's president Judy Cai: "We tried analyzing, how come sales cannot go up quickly? One reason, I hate to say, is the quality of it, how durable it is... I talk to customers riding [an old] unit. It doesn’t look good because it’s been on the road 12 years. It has 100,000 miles on it. But the machine itself runs very well. And so when you try to sell new units [to those customers] . . . unfortunately, it does hurt us."
The cessation of production of the original two-wheeled Segway design is going to have some knock-on effects for Segway's workforce. Once production ends at Segway's plant in Bedford in New Hampshire, a total of 21 members of staff are going to be laid off. 12 members of staff will stay on temporarily to handle various things related to the original Segway, which includes warranties and repairs on units that have already been sold. 5 Segway employees will remain at the Bedford site, working on the Discovery electric scooters. Whilst only a skeleton crew is going to remain in the US now that pretty much all manufacturing is being shifted to China, Segway are refusing to completely close the plant. As Judy Cai has said; "We’re definitely not closing the facility... How we utilize what we already have here in the U.S., that’s the next step of the discussion."
So, what's next for the Segway company? Well, you'll be glad to know that the Segway brand is not being discontinued. Segway's main product will become its Discovery scooter, something which has been a big seller for the company due to the recent surge in people wanting something zippy and easy to take them that last little stretch from the bus, train, car, taxi or even their inner-city apartment to their place of work. Segway has a very impressive 70% market share of the global e-scooter market thanks to it being an official supplier to scooter-sharing companies Bird and Lime (Segway delivered both companies' first scooters during what Fast Company has termed the "Great Scooter Wars" of 2018, something that is explained very well in this Vox article here). Segway's innovations have also helped its parent company Ninebot (the Chinese mobility company bought Segway in 2015) to no end, allowing it to develop new takes on personal transport.
The quirky little slice of millennial optimism that was the original Segway is no more, but its legacy will live on for decades to come in the thousands of little electric scooters (many of them manufactured by Segway itself!) that zip around cities all across America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Dean Kamen's original product may have been a colossal white elephant, but the philosophy behind it was more successful than any of us could have ever imagined. So long, Segway. We'll miss you.