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Segway sales surge as pump prices rise

The Associated Press

Paul Feeney didn't commute with the Segway his parents gave him for Christmas in 2005 until he moved close to work this spring. The battery-powered, energy-efficient scooter makes the 2.25-kilometre commute fun, the Ohio-based Sun Microsystems sales representative said.

It also made his commute a lot less expensive.

When the Segway Personal Transporter came out in 2001, inventor Dean Kamen said the self-balancing vehicles would revolutionize short-distance travel. At first, however, they appealed mostly to police, mall security crews and airport personnel.

With gas prices escalating, sales in the U.S. are growing. One Segway dealer identified as one of its top five in the U.S. — Riva Motorsports of Pompano Beach, Fla. — sold almost 200 in 2006, 250 in 2007 and 175 in the first five months of 2008, said Riva spokesman Matt Sermarini.

"Anything that seems to be economical on fuel or doesn't use fuel at all, people are definitely researching and buying," Sermarini said.

Segways don't completely cure the pain at pump. They need a charge after about 40 kilometres, can't protect riders from the elements or carry much cargo and have a top speed of 20 km/h.

Richard Doherty, an analyst with the Envisioneering Group research firm who has followed the Segway market for several years, said interest started rising in California when gas hit $4 a gallon there early this year.

"When SUV owners start driving slowly to save precious drops of gas, using a Segway looks more and more appealing — especially for middle of the day and weekend trips near home," said Doherty.

The vehicle's price, which ranges from about $5,000 to $6,000, is coming into range, said Doherty.

"They're saying that a Segway now costs about what you'd pay for the annual maintenance on many car models," he said. "It just makes sense, if it's fair weather and you can make your trips by Segway."

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