"GM, Segway unveil Puma urban vehicle" headlines Marketwatch.com. The Puma is an enlarged Segway that can hold 2 people in a sitting position. Both companies are hoping this promotion will create excitement for the not-yet-released product, thus generating a more positive opinion of both companies and establish early demand. Unfortunately, the product isn't anything at all like the iPod and the comparison is way off the mark.
The iPod when released with the iTunes was a disruptive innovation which allowed customers to completely change how they acquired, maintained and managed their access to music. Instead of purchasing entire CDs, people could acquire one song at a time. You no longer needed special media readers, because the tunes could be heard on any MP3 device. And your access was immediate, from the download, without going to a store or waiting for physical delivery. People that had not been music collectors could become collectors far cheaper, and acquire only exactly what they wanted, and listen to the music in their own designed order, or choose random delivery. The source of music changed, the acquisition process changed, the collection management changed, the storage of a collection changed – it changed just about everything about how you acquired and interacted with music. It was not a sustaining innovation, it was disruptive, and it commercialized a movement which had already achieved high interest via Napster. The iPod/iTunes business put Apple into the lead in an industry long dominated by other companies (such as Sony) by bringing in new users and building a loyal following.
Unfortunately, increasing the size of a product that has not yet demonstrated customer efficacy, economic viability or developed a strong following and trying to sell it through an existing distribution system that has long been decried as uneconomic and displeasing to customers is not an iPod experience. And that is what this GM/Segway announcement is trying to do.
Despite all the publicity when it was first announced, the Segway has not developed a strong following. After 7 years of intense marketing, and lots of looks, Segway has sold only 60,000 units globally – a fraction of competitive product such as bicycles, motorized scooters, motorcycles and mass transit. Segway has not "jumped into the lead" in any segment of transportation. It has yet to develop a single dominant application, or a loyal group of followers. The product achieves a smattering of sales, but the vast majority of observers simply say "why?" and comment on the high price. Segway has never come close to achieving the goals of its inventor or its investors.
This product announcement gives us more of the same from Segway. It's the same product, just bigger. We are given precious little information about why someone would own one, other than it supposedly travels 35 miles on $.35 of electricity. But how fast it goes, how long to recharge, how comfortable the ride, whether it can carry anything with you, how it behaves in foul weather, why you should choose it over a Nano from Tata or another small car, or a motorscooter or motorcycle — these are all open items not addressed.
And worse, the product isn't being launched in White Space to answer these questions and build a market. Instead, the announcement says it will be sold through GM dealers. This simply ignores answering why any GM dealer would ever want to sell the thing – given its likely price point, margin, use – why would a dealer want to sell Puma/Segways instead of more expensive, capable and higher margin cars?
Great White Space projects are created by looking into the future and identifying scenarios where this project – its use – can be a BIG winner that will attract large volumes of customers. Second, it addresses competitive lock-ins and creates advantages that don't currently exist and otherwise would not exist. Thirdly, it Disrupts the marketplace as a game changer by bringing in new users that otherwise are out of the market. And fourth it has permission to try anything and everything in the market to create a new Success Formula to which the company can migrate for rapid growth.
This project does none of that. It's use is as unclear as the original Segway, and the scenario in which this would ever be anything other than a novelty for perfect weather inner-city upscale locations is totally unclear. This product captures all the current Lock-ins of the companies involved – trying to Defend & Extend one's technology base and the other's distribution system – rather than build anything new. The product appears simply to be inferior in almost all regards to competitive products, with no description of why it is a game changer to other forms of transportation. And the project is starting with most important decisions pre-announced - rather than permission to try new things. And there is absolutely no statement of how this project will be resourced or funded – by two companies that are both in terrible financial shape.
The iPod and iTunes are brands that turned around Apple. They are role models for how to use Disruptive innovation to resurrect a troubled company. It's really unfortunate to see such wonderful brand names abused by two poorly performing companies without a clue of how to manage innovation. The biggest value of this announcement is it shows just how poorly managed Segway has been – given that it's partnering with a company that is destined to be the biggest bankruptcy ever in history, and known for its inability to understand customer needs and respond effectively.