Damn The Critics, Go Sell Something!

Robin predicts rising gas prices will boost the commuter-based scooter market.

Critics have long denigrated the scooter market here in the U.S. by claiming they aren’t "real" motorcycles and saying they will never really sell in this country. "Riding a scooter is like dating a fat chick," adds one of my dealer friends, a bit bluntly. "It is fun until your friends see you with one."

Ouch! Bad joke, but we will see who is laughing when gas prices hit $4 a gallon this summer as I saw predicted in the New York Times this morning! According to the economists who specialize in that sort of thing, gasoline was averaging $2.87 per gallon on April 25 as I write this, about 33% higher than just 11 weeks ago. Crude oil prices just jumped to $65.84 a barrel, based on new government data showing a steep, 2.8-million-barrel drop in gasoline supplies going into the summer travel season.

And it gets worse (or maybe that should read "better" if your dealership is already stocking fuel-efficient scooters?). Petrol prices in Europe pushed past $5 per liter long ago, and it looks like the U.S. is now on that upward spiral. So does this mean a flood of financially strapped folks will be trading in their gas-guzzling Hummers for something that sucks a lot less fuel?

Again, the critics chime in with derogatory comments. "America is a lot more sprawled out than Europe, scooters just aren’t big enough to cover the distances here." Oh really? Honda’s 2007 Silver Wing displaces almost 600cc (582cc to be exact), while Suzuki busted out a bigger Burgman 650 model at their dealer meeting — seems like scooters like these should have no problem keeping up with the flow of traffic. In touring the KYMCO factory a couple of years ago, we rode the 500cc Xciting prototypes and saw a 700cc fuel-injected scooter powerplant being bench tested in the secret R&D area of the factory (oops, did that slip out? I meant to say there are rumors of KYMCO having bigger motors in the works).

Or how about the irony of the fact that the bulk of the Chinese-sourced scooters come from warehouses based in Texas? Scooter market giants like American Lifan, Chuanl, Kinroad, Sunl and others are all headquartered in the same Dallas suburb! Bigger may have historically been better for selling to the U.S. customer, but not everything is bigger in Texas these days … at least not in terms of displacement!

Most of the scooter product coming from China, Korea and Taiwan still seems to be concentrated at the sub-150cc segment for now. However, these Asian Tigers have proven they can produce vast quantities of 250cc and up ATVs lately, so they can surely do the same should the scooter market warrant it.

"They are all sub-standard pieces of junk…" again with the criticism? These are the same jingoists who said these sorts of things about the Japanese products as they watched the pools of oil congeal on the floor beneath their non-selling British-built bikes as little "sub-standard pieces of junk" from The Land Of The Rising Sun sounded the death-knell for the best built bikes from the British empire — also known as the "empire on which the sun never sets" during the Victorian era of colonialism.

Here in the former colonies maybe Americans are due for another paradigm shift on par with what the industry experienced in the late 1960s with the rise of the Japanese motorcycle industry? Perhaps North Americans (yes, you Canadians too, eh) can become a commuter-based scooter market like our friends in Northern Europe?

The people at Piaggio proudly point to a recent traffic model that would save New Yorkers time, money and even stop global warming! By shifting the daytime vehicle mix to 20% scooters, the following results were claimed:

  • A reduction of traffic delays by 4.6 million hours per year, a time savings of nearly 100 working hours per person.
  • A reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by about 26,000 tons per year.
  • A decrease in fuel consumption by 2.5 million gallons per year.
  • A total savings for New York City of more than $122 million per year in fuel and labor productivity. Pretty impressive … and this was just for Manhattan!

While it probably isn’t realistic to expect to see your local community become 20% scooter riders, isn’t the possibility of a pleasantly plump bottom line worth taking a closer look at the scooter market? Speaking of which, does my new set of wheels make my butt look big?

So is riding a scooter really like dating a fat chick? Who cares if it means accessing an entirely new crop of customers? Get their butts onto two wheels and then upgrade them to a fatter … um, bigger, bike after that first summer of dating. If you don’t play match-maker, some other dealer will be happy to!

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