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Segways in Slovakia?

Segway hopes to find market for its low-emission Human Transporter in densely populated European and Asian cities. Photos: Segway scoots ahead

While Segway's Human Transporter scooter has been slow to take off in the United States, company executives say they see big opportunity internationally.

At a press event in New York City last week, Segway executives said there's already great interest in Europe and Asia, where fuel prices are high and traffic and pollution are problematic.

"We think the market in Europe and Asia might be more ready than it is in the United States," said Klee Kleber, vice president of marketing for Segway. "In Europe, we're already seeing different types of vehicles being used."

For example, the Smart Car, which is small enough to fit two side by side in a typical parking spot, has become very popular in Europe. The company that makes the economical internal-combustion car claims to have sold more than 500,000 of the mini-vehicles. It recently won approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to sell the cars in the United States.

Segway executives also say the scooter has big potential in Asia, where already-densely-populated cities are growing rapidly.

Reality hasn't met hype
The Segway Human Transporter, or HT, went on sale in 2002 amid huge hype. Supporters of the technology initially believed it would transform transportation and the way cities are built.

But the reality hasn't met the hype. After being on the market for a year, a mandatory recall revealed the company only sold about 6,000 HTs. Many cities have restricted use of the scooters, saying they're too big and fast for sidewalks and too small and slow for roads.

"It's hard to say whether I should be ecstatic that we've even sold one of these things for $5,000 or be devastated that cities aren't filled with them," Dean Kaman, founder of Segway and inventor of the device, said at the New York event. "It's difficult to gauge what my expectation should be."

But some critics attribute Segway's poor sales performance to how the product was marketed and sold. The company has already made changes to address these concerns. It has started a dealership program and already has 70 dealers signed up across the country, and says it expects that number to grow to 100.

In addition, the company is increasingly marketing the scooters as recreational vehicles. Earlier this fall it unveiled a prototype of a four-wheel vehicle called Centaur that uses the same technology as the HT. It has also introduced accessories for the HT, such as a laptop carrier that hooks onto the side. The company is expected to announce a set of new products early next year.

For now, Kaman remains realistic about Segway's impact.

"I won't tell you that you'll go to cities in a few years and there will be a myriad of Segways around," he said.