Xiaomi-backed startup Ninebot, a Chinese maker of electric-powered personal transportation products, has acquired U.S. rival Segway – the two-wheeler upright scooter which has become a running joke, synonymous with various comedic appearances (such as in U.S. sitcom Arrested Development and the 2009 comedy Paul Blart: Mall Cop), and the death of its owner at the hands of an unfortunate Segway-induced cliff fall.
However Gao Lufeng, chief executive, still recognises the potential of the Segway and has bought the U.S. company for an undisclosed amount. Lufeng confirmed that Ninebot had also secured $80mn (£54+mn) in funding from Xiaomi and venture capital firm Sequoia Capital.
After last year filing a legal case against Ninebot and other Chinese rivals, Segway president Rod Keller was fully behind the deal. “The strategic alliance with Ninebot will enable us to provide more intelligent and valuable products for our customers,” he said.
The U.S. International Trade Commission agreed last November to look into the Segway complaint which sought to block imports of Chinese Ninebots into the U.S. With the new deal between the two rivals it is unclear how the investigation will unfold.
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Ninebot was founded in 2012 by a team of robotics engineers and now sells its Segway-inspired ‘bots’ in over 38 countries. In addition to its two-wheeler scooter, the Beijing-based startup also offers a single-wheeled version named Ninebot One.
Segway has frequently grabbed headlines but has thus far failed to match its original hype, turning itself into a punchline rather than transforming the personal mobility sector as it first hoped. In 2003, the then U.S. president George W. Bush fell off a model, while in 2006 all of the company’s 23,500 vehicles had to be recalled due to a software glitch which caused the wheels to sporadically reverse.
Segways currently cost up to £6,200 in the UK, compared with Ninebot’s relatively cheap alternative priced between £700 and £2,500.