Should We All Just Drive 35?

05/15/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The GM Segway announcement of the PUMA was accompanied by much hoopla and media response. The six-wheeled PUMA was hailed by some as far-sighted and trashed by others as little more than down-at-the-heels GM showing its need to feel visionary.

PUMA is a concept vehicle, designed in haste to see what public response might be. It's a Segway that has an enclosed shell, seats two (though fairly snugly), integrates wireless navigation technology and goes up to 35 miles per hour.

One of the biggest criticisms of this vehicle is that it is so vulnerable - no major bumpers, hard steel sides or air bags to protect you in the case of a crash.

In many ways, that lack of those features is the point of the PUMA! It is designed to be one piece of the future mobility puzzle. Not a car, but something that could (perhaps more efficiently) replace many of a car's duties in cities. The wireless navigation system is meant to steer you clear of most accident situations (communicating wirelessly with other vehicles with similar technology in a .25 mile radius).

What Daniel Sperling, co-author of the forthcoming book Two Billion Cars said to Jim Motavalli for a NYT blog really resonates.

Sperling points out that PUMA is a low speed vehicle and LSVs are a category created by the US Dept. of Transportation. LSVs or neighborhood vehicles haven't really taken off in this country...yet. But Sperling says we absolutely need this kind of vehicle as part of a broader future network of mobility.

Phil Gott, analyst at Global Insight, concurs. Gott, who spent some time looking at the likely numbers in a recent paper, says he believes we will have 2 to 3 billion vehicles on the roads by 2050. At the same time, Gott says, city congestion is going to push us to integrate lots of different types of vehicles - liquid-fueled vehicles for long hauls, small hybrids and EVs in suburban settings, LSVs like the Zenn closer to city centers, and bikes and buses and pedestrians and PUMA-like conveyances near the hearts of cities.

If Gott and Sperling have the right vision, then slowing down our city traffic to 35 mph or less makes perfect sense and PUMA seems no longer a strange misfit but a good start on the road to friendly sustainable mobility.