75-120 miles per gallon makes parsimonious turn to scooters
With gas averaging $3.76, 2-wheelers finding new riders
PIERRE, S.D. - Joan Kohler is not a typical new scooter customer.
But the 51-year-old restaurant owner bought a candy-apple red
With the average national price of a gallon of regular gas at a record $3.76 a gallon, many cash-strapped motorists are turning to fuel-stingy motor scooters and smaller motorcycles. Dealers across the nation report brisk sales this spring, particularly for those that get from 75 to 120 miles per gallon.
"Ninety-five percent of those who come in mention high gas prices," said Lonnie Trujillo, sales manager for Vespa of California in Sherman Oaks. "Even though we're in Southern California and have year-round riding weather, April sales were phenomenal," he added.
Sales of name-brand scooters such as Honda, Yamaha, Vespa, and Suzuki rose 24 percent in the first quarter of the year, said Mike Mount, spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council trade group - noting that it's not exactly a hot sales period because of cool weather in much of the nation.
Many lesser-known scooters from China, Taiwan, and South Korea also are sold in the United States, but Mount said those sales figures are not readily available.
"We believe, anecdotally, that fuel prices are definitely having an effect on scooter sales," he said. "It seems likely that that's playing into scooter sales this quarter, as well."
The lowest-priced scooters such as the Chinese imports cost about $800, while name-brand bikes cost $2,000 to $3,000 and top-of-the-line models can go for $6,000 to $8,000.
Ross Petersen, a motorcycle and scooter dealer in South Dakota's capital, Pierre, said scooter and medium-size motorcycle sales are propelled by gas prices. Even people who don't fit the biker mode are buying, he said.
"We're selling to people who we normally wouldn't get into our shop," Petersen said. "We're getting people who have no intention of ever moving up to a bigger motorcycle like a
Gas prices are 67 cents higher than a year ago, and are expected to continue rising at least until the Memorial Day weekend. The Energy Department recently forecast that prices will peak next month at a monthly average of $3.73 a gallon. But that means prices may rise well above that level at times; many analysts expect prices to reach $4 a gallon on a national basis in coming weeks.
Within a day of buying her Honda from Petersen Motors, Kohler had 35 miles on her scooter. She said the price of gas was a major consideration, even if her daily commute is just a few miles.
"One hundred miles to the gallon is great," she said. "I don't do a lot of driving. It's just mainly going to work and back. And I thought, it can't be that difficult to drive."
Johnny Scheff of Motoworks in Chicago, which sells Vespas, said high gas prices are prompting consumers to find alternative means of transportation. Scooters can pay for themselves in fuel savings over one to three years, he said.
"April was a terrible weather month in Chicago, and the things were just flying out the door," he said.
At Vespa SoHo in Manhattan, the largest Vespa dealer in the country, owner Zach Schieffelin said scooter sales also are being propelled by New Yorkers fed up with commuting on the subways.
"We are starting to see the big uptick we were expecting, and it's all starting to boom now," said Schieffelin. "All of us who ride on a regular basis are having people stop us and ask what kind of fuel economy we get."