Give Scooters Their Due

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LAST MONTH MY COLLEAGUE Guido Ebert brought up the issue of small-displacement motorcycles and why there aren't more of them available in the United States. As with any discussion of small bikes, Guido referenced the scooter boom, rightly pointing out that many wanting an entry-level runabout don't want a scooter. The U.S. has historically not been very scooter-friendly. In fact we could guffaw all day over the scooter-related jokes shared by motorcyclists of either cruiser or sportbike stripes.

As a longtime scooter guy I could share anecdotes about being the target of many a drive-by "eff you," or about being spit at, flipped off or similarly abused while out on the road riding. I've even known of scooters being pushed over, their scoot's body parts damaged and mirrors broken off. Let's face it, scooters have long been the Rodney Dangerfields of the two-wheeled world.

Why aren't scooters taken more seriously? Why are they always seen as the gateway vehicle? How about celebrating and marketing them for what they are — fun and fuel-efficient.

It's apparent that the general public has taken an interest. In June, the Motorcycle Industry Council reported that scooter sales were up 66 percent over 2007 — that's month-on-month growth. I'd give more info about specific brands but the MIC holds these numbers close to its (heated) vest.

Also in June, Piaggio USA's Paolo Timoni told Dealernews that the company's sales across its scooter lineup were up 146 percent. It seems the Italians are the main OEMs pushing scooters on their serious and not-so-serious attributes (granted, scooters make up most of Piaggio's sales).

Timoni says the company has seen over the years a greater number of what he calls "rational buyers" — consumers buying scooters for commuting. They're joining the long-committed scooter riders who have been proselytizing scoots for years (even grumpy vintage scooter adherents like me). It's a shift that Timoni does not think is a passing trend, citing high gas prices and worsening traffic congestion.

To a certain extent, at least one other major OEM has embraced this current run on scooters, with Yamaha releasing the TMax, a model previously available only in Europe, and the Zuma 125. However, to get picky, Yamaha didn't give the two scoots anywhere near the attention it gave its new cruiser, ATV and sportbikes at its dealer meeting in September. Why not show Rossi on a TMax?

And then there's the other aspect of riding a scooter — it's fun. I recently had a chance to test ride an Aprilia SportCity 250 and it was a blast. I still can't pinpoint why riding the SportCity was so different from riding my Thruxton but when I got to work one day I had a more idiotic grin on my face than I normally do.

Still, in spite of the myriad of stories appearing in newspapers across the country about the growth of the scooter market I'm betting there hasn't been much of an attitude shift among motorcyclists. But how about you as a dealer? Are you embracing this new consumer base? In August, Erico Motorsports in Denver organized a "Scoot the Vote" ride during the Democratic National Convention (see photo). Erico, our 2008 Top 100 Dealer of The Year, was able to line up a number of sponsors for the ride and attracted more than 100 scoooterists.

What are you doing to attract and keep scooter buyers as long-term customers? Have any tips or anecdotes? Share them with us at editors@dealernews.com.

Dennis Johnson Senior Editor dennis.johnson@dealernews.com.