Why Did Segway Fail?

People ask all the time “Why did Segway fail?” It’s a question that can’t have only one reason as an answer.

Announced in 2001 and launched a year later, the Segway PT, or “Personal Transporter” is remembered as an innovation in electric commuters.

Despite its failure, it prompts questions about attempts to reinvent the wheel.

Reasons for Segway failure

Segway failure was presumed for a couple of reasons like: high price tag, bad reputation, unsuitable for the modern lifestyle, no target audience, design flaws, it wasn’t cool.

The beginnings

Segway was an American brand that specialized in light electric vehicles for personal transport.

In June 2020, 19 years after its reveal, the Segway PT was discontinued, marking the end of a quirky precursor to today’s electric kick-scooters

Their signature self-balancing technology, developed by Dean Kamen in the 1990s and patented by the brand, aimed to revolutionize commuting, replacing traditional modes like cars and bikes with new electric vehicles.

The self-balancing technology was the foundation of their first and most popular product, the Segway PT.

You might recall it from internet fail compilations or the box office comedy hit about a mall cop with the Segway Transporter as a loyal “partner”.

In 2001, the Segway was hailed as the future vehicle, with investors believing it could replace cars in the US. A massive PR campaign, including a public TV introduction on Good Morning America and praise from industry figures, fueled the hype.

Even Steve Jobs himself was quoted saying that the Segway “could be as big a deal as the PC”.

Despite promising to sell 50,000 to 100,000 units annually, Segway only achieved 10% of that goal in the following year, signaling its inevitable failure.

All units were recalled due to a software issue causing malfunctions. This, along with market underachievement and negative press, marked the end of the Segway two-wheel commuter era.

Why did Segway fail?

The key question is, why Segway failed and what was the main reason? Was it the design flaw? The bad publicity? Was it simply too ahead of its time?

Or was it all piled up together?

High price tag

A key factor in Segway’s memory is its high cost, around $5000 at release, which never decreased due to unmet profit forecasts.

The initial mistake: aiming to replace cars and bikes for the average middle-class American, but the price was too high.

Additionally, the vehicle’s single-person use and limited load capacity made it less appealing for the cost.

A bad reputation

Segway’s PR efforts backfired when it failed to deliver on promises, leading to significant reputation damage. The internet was flooded with “Segway fails compilation” videos, becoming the top search result for the product.

It also didn’t help when the owner of the company himself, Jimi Heselden died after falling off while riding the Segway transporter.

With a lot of effort, you can probably pull through a couple of videos of the president falling off your product, or it taking down the world’s number one athlete star, but the owner losing his life on his own product was the final publicity blow that Segway could never recover from.

Unsuitable for the modern lifestyle

The Segway PT was too slow and had a very low range for what it aspired to be.

The commuter had a top speed of 12.5 mph / 20 kmh, with a single battery charge covering up to 24 mi / 39 km. While decent for e-vehicles, it fell short of replacing cars as primary daily transporters.

The Segway often needed well-developed infrastructure, designed for flat paved roads and clean tracks. In the early 2000s, cities were geared toward slow pedestrians or fast cars, not the Segway PT.

No target audience

A very important aspect of Segway’s failure was its lack of a target audience.

The vehicle simply didn’t appeal to any specific group on the market, leaving it with no potential buyers even after a decade of its release.

It was too unconventional and impractical for daily commuting, not as fun as skateboards or bikes for kids and adventurers.

You couldn’t take it on public transport or to the office, making its $5000 price tag questionable for many.

Design flaws

Besides the software error that signaled the first problems of the Segway PT, the vehicle had many minor design flaws that repelled any potential users away from it.

The self-balancing technology was innovative but challenging to master.

Despite its apparent simplicity, learning the lean-to-ride mechanism proved daunting. Riders required weeks of practice, often leading to injuries from falls.

It just wasn’t cool

Segway PT

All things considered, probably the biggest reason Segway failed was that it just wasn’t cool.

Like, at all. The vehicle got the nickname “scooter for dorks” from the very start of its production, and it never managed to shake it off.

Getting released at the dawn of the internet era didn’t help as well, as the public simply piled up on the trend of making Segway the end of every joke.

This general public’s dissent, combined with one of the most poorly mishandled PR campaigns in the e-vehicle industry, was a recipe for catastrophic failure from the get-go.

A lesson to be learned

Although the Segway PT will always be remembered as a big failure and a complete misreading of the market, it can still teach us a lot of things about our world.

Segway was a pioneer.

Besides its shortcomings, was the first mass-produced unit for personal transportation that worked solely on electricity.

It was the trailblazer that truly redefined light electric vehicles and paved the road for one of the biggest market booms we’ve seen in the industry – the electric scooter craze.

The Segway taught a lot of lessons about scooter design, market analysis, and PR campaign management.

And many electric scooter brands today can be thankful to the company for stumbling on so many hurdles, making it easier to know what should be avoided in the future.

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I am Matt Trajkovski, the owner and main editor of EScooterNerds. I love electric scooters, and electric vehicles in general, and I’ve been involved in the industry for more than 10 years. I enjoy testing, reviewing, and research on various electric scooter models and brands, following our proprietary rigorous editorial and testing process developed here at EScooterNerds, looking for great value and performance, both through data and experience. All of the content published on this blog goes through a rigorous review and editorial process, and our product reviews not only include the hands-on experience of our own team members, but the experience of our audience members as well. My goal is to provide you with the best information about electric scooters possible. You can see all of my posts in my articles archive.
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