Philly hoverboard maker bullish despite fires and bad publicity

It’s been a tough stretch for so-called hoverboards, one of the holiday season’s hottest gifts.

First, online retailer dropped the self-balancing wheeled scooters from the site. Then a trio of major airlines — Delta, American and United — banned them from their flights. Now, and Target have apparently stopped selling certain models, at least temporarily.


The reason for all this bad press: more than a couple hoverboards have unexpectedly caught fire. Some of the lithium-ion batteries inside are believed to be the reason why, though the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission intends to find out for sure.

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Charles Cerrone from Fishtown isn’t all that surprised, though. When he bought his hoverboard several months ago, he made sure not to buy a low-end model.

“For this exact reason,” said Cerrone. “I don’t this thing exploding on me and causing a fire.”

Some hoverboards cost $1,000 or more. Other models out there run $300, sometimes less.

It’s unclear what impact all this will have on hoverboard sales. Will it hurt the entire market or just certain models?

Jonah Berger, who teaches marketing at the University of Pennsylvania, said, right now, the demand for hoverboards might be high enough that shoppers will just buy them elsewhere when they can’t find them on Amazon or Overstock.

“That said, if a consumer boycott starts a larger movement where more stores stop carrying it then it might have a larger impact,” said Berger.

Sanjay Mukherjee is among those who hopes that doesn’t happen. He heads Rollerboard, a new Philadelphia-based company that makes a higher-end version of the hoverboard.

Mukherjee said he’s not worried about his company taking a hit because the batteries in the hoverboards that have exploded are cheaper than the Samsung ones in his product.

“The batteries are easy to replicate. You have 10 or 20 cells that are shrink wrapped together. And there you go. You have the battery. It’s not rocket science,” said Mukherjee.

For now, perhaps the best test will be how many hoverboards you see rolling down the street after Christmas.

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