Culture

Segway sales haven't transported maker

Things at Dean Kamen's company aren't exactly ginger-peachy: Nearly all of its two-wheeled Human Transporters sold as of last week are under recall, and sales are way off the company's mark.

When Segway announced the recall of all its Human Transporters on Friday, it shed light on the sales performance of the previously highly hyped two-wheeled device.

Segway announced that essentially all its Human Transporters--approximately 6,000--sold as of Thursday are under recall. That figure pales in comparison with the 50,000 to 100,000 units the company had expected to sell by January of this year.

But even before the company released its shipment figures as part of the recall notice, there were indications that sales weren't all that stellar.

Companies, organizations and government agencies were taking longer than expected to move from the testing phase to the buying phase, and questions surfaced regarding how much demand would exist beyond initial consumer curiosity. Meanwhile, a backlash began to surface among local governments over how safe the two-wheeled, motorized devices were on city streets.

It has yet to be seen whether the recall will have an effect on prospective customers who are testing and evaluating the transporters, as well as on local governments that are weighing the idea of allowing the controversial two-wheeler on their sidewalks.

But Mark Saunders, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the product recall will have no bearing on the service's evaluation of whether to use the Human Transporters beyond the testing phase. The Postal Service owns 40 transporters and is reviewing the results to determine whether it wants to purchase more for its carriers.

Lou DeLorme, transportation and facilities team leader for the National Park Service, said the recall will not play a factor in the National Park's evaluation of transporters. Currently, three are used by the organization's headquarters.

"This will not affect our buying interest," DeLorme said. "It's like running out of gas. I know if I run out of gas, I could get stranded on the road, and it would be dangerous for me. With the Segway, we were told in training last week the machine shakes and beeps when you're low on power, and you have 20 seconds to get off the machine."

Segway is alerting customers to the recall via mail, e-mail and a posting on the company's Web site, the company stated.

It also noted that all transporters sold as of Sept. 26 include the mandatory software upgrade.

"We have very high confidence in the safety of the Segway HT, and this software upgrade further enhances the safety margins of the machine. Safe riding practices will always remain key to the safety of our customers, and it is important that our customers practice safe riding techniques before and after receiving the software upgrade," the company stated.

Amazon.com, which sells the Segway transporters via its Web site, also plans to alert customers who purchased a transporter about the recall, said Bill Curry, an Amazon spokesman. Amazon is a major Segway distributor.