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Amazon e-mail can't derail Segway

The online retailer plans to clarify a message to customers suggesting the scooter's development had gotten offtrack. Still, the two-wheeled device remains in first gear commercially.

Amazon customers who signed up to be notified of the availability of the scooterlike "Ginger" device received a disappointing e-mail message Thursday: "The Segway Human Transporter will not be available in the foreseeable future."

But representatives of Manchester, N.H.-based Segway are not sure why the Web retailer sent the notice out.

"Amazon never had a distribution agreement with us," said Segway spokesman Tobe Cohen. "Nothing has changed...we will continue with our deliberate and measured deployment into the consumer market."

Amazon representatives confirmed on Thursday afternoon that the message was sent in error to a small number of customers and that Amazon will notify them that there is no new information on the status of the "HT."

Segway's Cohen added that the transporters--known as "Ginger" before their official debut--will begin to trickle out to consumers at the end of the year, with large volume shipments expected by the middle of next year. The company is continuing to sign up new customers, such as cities and utility companies, and expects to hit its estimates for annual shipments into the commercial market of between 50,000 to 100,000 units. Segway has a factory in Bedford, N.H., that can make up to 40,000 scooters a month.

The company's goal initially is to demonstrate to potential customers that the HT can be used in extreme weather conditions and terrain. Organizations such as the U.S. Postal Service and National Park Service are in trials with a commercial design of the HT, which is faster and more expensive than the consumer version. Those trials have gone according to plan.

One hiccup for the company could arise from the recent resignation of Peter Poulin, who was a vice president in charge of commercial sales. Poulin left to spend more time with his family.

Commercial customers are the only group the devices are available for, and getting them to commit to large-scale purchases is a long process. The U.S. Postal Service bought 40 HTs after finishing feasibility tests in late January and is currently looking over the results of trials that ended in August.

The Postal Service is finishing up its alpha trial of testing and is considering if it will go into beta testing, according to spokeswoman Sue Brennan. The beta testing will likely be longer and involve trying the HTs out in more cities than the five used in the alpha stage.

"Segway is discovering (how much time can pass) between a trial and an order," said Richard Doherty, an analyst with research firm the Envisioneering Group. "This will likely be a community-by-community learning experience."

But Segway is making some progress at the state level. Thirty-one states have approved legislation allowing HTs to be used on sidewalks. Senior citizen groups and advocates for walking have objected to the use of the HTs on sidewalks, leading some politicians to object to bills that allow such use, but so far the those in favor have out numbered those against. Bills for approval are being considered by California and Illinois.

Consumer demand for the HTs reached frenzied levels when three of the gizmos went up for bidding on Web retailer in February. Bids started at $1.75, but each HT went for more than $100,000 when the auctions closed, after a little more than a month.