Once hyped by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs as being “as big a deal as the PC,” the self-balancing, two-wheeled Segway wasn’t quite the iPhone moment for personal transportation people expected, but was definitely ahead of its time. Carrying a $5,000 price tag upon its launch in 2001, the Segway PT was a hard sell to everyone but urban law enforcement, security firms, and tourism agencies. And as of 2020, Segway has only sold about 140,000 of the once-thought-revolutionary vehicle. That’s why after 19 years, the company is reportedly discontinuing the vehicle that gave it life in the first place.
Accounting for under 1.5 percent of annual revenue in 2019 according to Reuters, the Segway PT was already a footnote in the ledgers of its manufacturer Segway-Ninebot. Segway found itself suffixed by the Chinese robotics firm after a legal battle over its patents, which concluded in April of 2015 with the Ninebot swallowing the smaller Segway after an $80 million cash infusion. Segway-Ninebot has since gone on to launch other products targeting the newly lucrative personal mobility market, such as its KickScooter line, which has reportedly made it the single largest supplier of electric scooters for scooter sharing services such as Lime and Lyft.
In many ways, the Segway was the birther of many modern mobility ideas and products, kickstarting the search for city mobility that ultimately resulted in those pesky-but-sometimes-helpful rental scooters. Think of it as the GM EV1 of electric scooters.
The Segway PT may be gone, but its technologies live on in the likes of Ninebot’s parallel-wheeled scooter products the S, S-Plus, and Loomo, all of which roughly share their basic operation with the original Segway. This, in many ways, proves that although not a best-seller, the Segway was incredibly influential to future products. None of them, however, will ever boast the cultural significance of the original Segway PT, which was immortalized in gaffes such as one involving the company owner, who rode one off a cliff onto his death in 2010, and the collision between a Segway-bound cameraman and Usain Bolt at the 2015 Track and Field World Championships in Beijing.