Companies from around the world have been working overtime making overtures to India’s newly-elected government of the business-friendly Narendra Modi.
Among the more unique is Segway, the company behind the famous self-balancing personal transporter.
The US firm’s Indian distributor is hoping for tax credits from Mr Modi’s government and hopes the famously green-friendly Prime Minister will recognize the battery-powered two-wheeler as a green vehicle, a move that could spur sales of the expensive device in a country where an overwhelming majority of people cannot afford it.
The Segway is the invention of businessman and inventor Dean Kamen who was looking to develop “high-efficient, zero emission transportation solutions” that are manoeuvrable and can be operated on sidewalks and pathways.
In 2002, Segway, adapted from the word segue that means “to transition smoothly from one state to another”, got the right to operate in over 30 states in the United States.
By 2007, the New Hampshire-based company had a worldwide presence in 60 countries. It made its India debut in 2010.
Four years later, the Segway has a presence in Delhi, Mumbai and parts of the state of Maharashtra and southern India, including Bangalore. The company is building the vehicle in the city of Gurgaon just outside Delhi, and wants to sell it to airports, hotels, the police and upscale neighbourhoods, according to a top executive of the Bird Group, Segway’s Indian distributor.
However, the product’s steep price (a single unit costs between 400,000 to 500,000 rupees or around $8,000. For that price you can buy a whole car in India) in a price-sensitive market like India coupled with high customs and a lack of infrastructure weighs on the vehicle’s sales potential.
The result – it has been confined to commercial and institutional use or at farmhouses or by tech-savvy rich people.
The self-balancing vehicle is being used in shopping malls such as the Ambience complexes in south Delhi and Gurgaon, the international airport in Delhi and to promote tourism at places like Ahmedabad’s Kankaria Lake. Many customers, Segway India said, have bought it for use at golf courses.
The customers and potential users told Reuters India said they not mind the price.
UR Nair, a senior executive in the luxury travel and IT industry, was planning to buy the Segway PT for the love of it.
“It’s something like you are asking a woman why would she buy a crazy handbag for 500,000 or 600,000 rupees.
You don’t ask them, right?” he said, adding that the government’s encouragement to such technologies will augur well with the smart cities being planned in India.
Another customer, Vinod Singh Rajpurohit, decided to buy the ride for himself after he took a Segway tour of Rome – a guided tour that has been replicated in central Delhi since 2012.
He said he would purchase at least four Segways for use in his furniture and handicraft factory in Rajasthan.
“I think it’s a toy, but ultimately it is a very useful toy,” Rajpurohit said.
Segway promoters see its growth in integrating their product with smart cities like Lavasa in Maharashtra and selling some to police forces. Police departments and security agencies, including the police in some Chinese cities, use the vehicle for patrolling.
“We have been pitching to the government to consider Segway as a green vehicle.
There is a tax rebate on green vehicles purchase. We expect the government to seriously look into it,” said Rony Abraham, general manager at the Bird Group, the New Delhi-based company that imports, assembles and sells Segway’s.
However, auto experts are divided over whether the vehicle can qualify for an exemption.
“It’s a kind of an off-road product so we need to see if it can come under National Electric Mobility program.
However, I think it can be bundled well with (the) electric program if pitched properly,” said journalist Puneet Gupta.
Launched by the previous government in 2013, the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan envisages better use of environment friendly vehicles by the year 2020.
But Saurabh Rohilla, deputy director at the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers, said Segway’s are not in the scope of the National Electric Mobility Mission Plan because they are not motor vehicles.
Vehicles in India are regulated under the Motor Vehicles Act that recognises different types of vehicles.