Intriguing news from the personal transportation mobility device sector: Beijing-based company Ninebot has announced that not only will it acquire rival Segway, but it has also scored $80 million in funding from investors including Xiaomi, Sequoia Capital, and Shunwei Foundation.
This marks the third time that Segway, which has struggled to live up to its much-hyped 2001 launch, when it was vaunted as the “future of transportation,” has been acquired. It was purchased by UK-based CEO Out in 2010 before being sold to Summit Strategic Investments in 2013.
The deal is especially interesting (and ironic) because Ninebot was named by Segway and its founder Dean Kamen in a trade complaint last year. Segway and DEKA, another company launched by Kamen, claimed Ninebot, as well as other Chinese companies WindRunner, FreeGo, and Robstep, infringed Segway’s patents.
In an entry still on its FAQ, Ninebot is careful to delineate the difference between its products and Segway’s: “Ninebot’s products are independently developed and manufactured in China. Ninebot independently owns its intellectual property. When compared to imported brands, we offer comparable quality and service and we do so at a much lower price.”
The two companies, however, appear to have put the fracas behind them.
In a press statement, the new Hampshire-based company’s president Rod Keller said “The strategic alliance with Ninebot will enable us to provide more intelligent and valuable products for our customers. We are fully confident about our future.”
Once the acquisition closes, Segway will become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Ninebot, but the two brands will remain separate.
Ninebot plans to use the purchase to expand its product roster. Founder and CEO Gao Lufeng said “After establishing the alliance, the company will apply a series of technologies into its future products, covering electric driving, mobile internet, and man-machine interaction. This combination creates great opportunities for the development of the short-distance transportation industry.”
This marks the latest in a series of hardware and Internet of Things investments by Xiaomi, which has also given funding to companies like Misfit, Pebbles Interfaces, and iHealth Labs. Alliances with these startups can potentially help Xiaomi build its e-commerce unit, which, along with Internet services and hardware like its smartphones, form the core parts of its business.