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Sales of Vespa scooters and other brands rise with gas prices

October 23, 2011 |  9:00 am

High gas prices and a sluggish economy are boosting U.S. sales of motor scooters.

In the first half of this year, the major brands -– including Vespa, Piaggio, Honda and Yamaha -– sold 18,198 scooters, up 28.9% from the same period last year. The increase was greater than any other catagory of motorcycle, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

Melissa R. MacCaull, vice president of Vespa and Piaggio owner Piaggio Group Americas, said there’s lots more room for growth.

PHOTOS: Classic scooters

Scooters make up only a tiny percentage of vehicle sales in the United States. But in Europe, where gas is expensive and the traffic-dense cities are conducive to scooters and motorcyles, scooters are often the first motorized vehicle a teen operates. 

Vespa is seeing increasing sales of its larger-displacment scooters, models that offer 150 cc to 300 cc engines that allow the bikes to travel at freeway speeds. MacCaull says that’s a sign that more people are starting to use the vehicles for their daily commute. Scooter2

“People in America are starting to see scooters as a way to save money and get places faster,” MacCaull said.

Piaggio’s bestseller is the Italian-built Vespa LX 150. It retails for $4,600, but a top case (a scooter trunk) and a windscreen push the sticker price just above $5,000. It gets 75 miles per gallon.

The growing popularity of scooters prompted the Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles to create an exhibit about the vehicles called "Scooters: Size Doesn’t Always Matter."

The exhibit features more than 90 vehicles that mark a chronological tour of motor scooter development beginning with the simple Autoped of the mid-1910s to the alternative power vehicles that are produced today. It runs through May 28, 2012.

Smaller, more affordable and easier to maneuver than motorcycles, motor scooters offer an efficient and stylish means to run quick errands and travel short distances. The exhibit shows how the smallish motor bikes evolved from bicycle-style frames with motors to the sophisticated, aerodynamic vehicles. 

It also shows how scooters have been adapted to business and industrial uses and how they have been portrayed in movies and television shows.

Southern California was once a major scooter manufacturing hub, according to the museum.


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Photos: Scooters on display at the Petersen Automotive Museum. Credit: Petersen Automotive Museum