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Piaggio’s Plea: Help Us Sell Bikes/Scooters In The U.S. As Transportation

Imagine my surprise when, after having my ass kissed for several years,  I attend a press event where I am scolded, along with several other journalists, by the manufacturer’s rep. That’s right, most manufacturers want to “make nice” with the media, for obvious reasons. Piaggio’s North American president, however, had a different idea. The media wasn’t doing a good job of selling motorcycles as transportation in the U.S. The traditional buyer here, of course, is focused on entertainment, not practicality. Piaggio wants that to change (although they still want the occassional buyer to step up for an expensive Italian superbike).

Piaggio has a point. Motorcycle journalism in the U.S. thus far has catered to the “enthusiast” who views a motorcycle as an object of passion and desire, not as a simple transportation device. In Europe, where Piaggio has sold approximately ten gazillion scooters (branded Vespa, Piaggio and Aprilia), the attitude is different. Scooters are a way of life, and two wheelers in general are a way of life, beyond entertainment. They get you to and from the places you need to go on a daily basis… without sucking the life out of your wallet (as most of you know, European gas prices have been dramatically higher than prices here in the U.S. for a long time).

The problem with all this was ironically illustrated by the Piaggio press event, itself. When I asked Mr. President whether Piaggio offered small, inexpensive scooters here in the U.S., he acted somewhat surprised and advised me that, of course, they did offer such machines (ever heard of the Piaggio Fly 50, with its 110mpg rating and 39mph top speed?). The irony? We were at this event, in large part, to sample the Piaggio product available for sale here in the United States. It was all carefully laid out for us in the parking lot, and after registering we could simply hop on anything we might like to ride, including Aprilia RSVs, big Moto Guzzis, and trendy Vespas. Unfortunately, Piaggio didn’t make available to any of us the small displacement, inexpensive scooters I had asked about (not a Fly 50 in sight!), apparently, because Piaggio believed we would have no interest in testing those scooters, and our readers would have no interest in reading about them!

For us, transportation can be combined with enthusiasm and passion, not only with regard to two wheeled vehicles (or, in the case of the Piaggio MP3, three wheeled), but also with automobiles. You will see us address the transportation aspect here at MD, but we will never forget the passion part. Having said that, don’t hold your breath waiting for the article titled “50cc Scooters Bang Heads: Who’s The Top Dog?”, but stranger things have happened.

50 Comments

  1. JS says:

    So-called “super” scoots are ideal for America, and they bridge the gap (mechanically and psychologically) between highway-incompatible Vespa class scoots and full-blown touring m/c’s. But instead of Yamaha, et al, castigating dealers for the lack of “transportation” thinking, they might want to expend a little more advert. revenue on making that point themselves, plus getting their industry org., the MIC, to lead the charge for better road rules, unbiased law enforcement, and public demos of scooter/low disp. m/c practicality instead of adrenaline hype.

    It’s their four-color, fold-out advert’s. that pull people into the showrooms. If they look for wheelie-poppers instead of fun and responsible transport they have only themselves to blame.

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  2. Motorod says:

    Let’s face it, for most of the US, scooters and small displacement bikes don’t make sense. The distances are too great, the freeway speeds too high, the weather conditions too extreme. Besides that, there is the whole high-performance culture where everyone seems to be in the thrall of horsepower beyond the realm of real-world usability. None of my riding buddies would be caught dead on a Ninja 250, much less a 150 scooter, whereas the little Ninja looks pretty good to me, and the new Stella from the Genuine Scooter Company, right here in the good old US of A, seems like something I could live with. Sorry Piaggio.

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  3. Norm G. says:

    After reading all the comments, it’s pretty clear that one and only definitive conclustion can be drawn? And that’s there’s very little if any business case to be made for scooters and other small displacement motorcycles here in the U.S. However (comma), that assumes we make the case based on practicality (ie. the same principle that works for Europe). That’s where we are going wrong. Short of a technological breakthrough, scooter practicality will NEVER trump small/compact car practicality. No, the only way to proliferate increased sales of these vehicles is to stick with the SAME marketing ploy that currently dominates the American psyche. Ie. FUN and ENTERTAINMENT. If you notice, fun factor is the only POSITIVE reoccuring theme observed in most of the comments (especially from those who actually own small bore vehicles). Okay, leverage THAT to your advantage. That’s really what honda did with the classic “nicest people” ad. “Fun factor” is the only card that allows you to trump price, trump lack of all weather practicality, trump less than 100mpg fuel consumption, and trump any other “deal breaker” the nay-sayers can come up with. And the damndest thing about it…? It’s actually TRUE. Fun (like beauty) is in the eye of the beholder. I see club and pro racers come off the track, hop off of their 1,000cc missiles, jump on their lightweight scooters and start wheelying thru the pits with ear-to-ear grins on their faces. :) Moral of the story…? What the press (and manufacturers) REALLY have to do is start promoting not just scooters/small bore cycles…? but specifically the FUN aspect of scooters/small bore cycles. Get creative with the ads and don’t take it for granted the consumer understands this to be the case. Hammer this message home, the same as we do with the larger displacement offerings. In wealthy America, marketing works for a reason.

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  4. Charlie says:

    I have owned scooters for many years and they fill many puposes. Yes we do have many 150cc large wheeled scooters here,Piaggio, Kymco, Sym, Honda, all dependable and if the new price is intimidating a low millage used one is often below $2000. For longer distance many 250cc scooters are available that can cruise at highway speeds. I just bought a used 2009 Piaggio BV250 with fuel injection for $3100. so scooters are available and affordable and a wide range of sizes to fullfill most needs. I just think too many folks see the scooters as being too wimpy but if they actually rode a BV250 or BV500 there attitudes would change.

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  5. J. Kopp says:

    European cities encourage scooter riding by allowing them to park almost anywhere. People who live and work in high-cost parking areas would buy and ride scooters (and motorcycles) more if they were allowed to pile them up on sidewalks for free like they do in Europe. Will U.S. cities be willing to do this? If not, two-wheeled commuting will remain a fringe activity.

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  6. Bob Brown says:

    Have ridden my Piaggio BV 250 Tourer to work daily since August ’09. Most practical machine I’ve ever owned (Reflex, CB250, CB750, ST1100, CBR1100XX). Good on the open road, great in the city. 70+ mpg, great tire wear. Love the blue paint and pigskin/cowhide combo seat.

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  7. Eric Cherry says:

    I got introduced to motorcycling via scooters.

    Few short years ago when gas prices spiked to 4.55+ a gallon, I had to come up with an alternative mode of transportation. Couldn’t afford to drive my compact car!

    Thought, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Which in these times means ride a scooter. Never rode one before, but being born with less sense than the average dude. Figured I’d go for it.

    Got a 110cc Scooter off a local guy for $300 and although it was great fun, but it wasn’t practical for the area I live in. Too slow to keep up with traffic, would barely go 45MPH. Really limiting my range and nullifying any routes to work.

    So I thought “maybe a bigger scooter would fit the bill”, and it would have. But used scooters are hard to come by in my area, especially anything with 150+cc. Looked around for new, 125 Vinos,150,200,250 Vespa/Piaggios, all looked nice but the OTD price was just too much for me to bare. Lots of waffling on my part, “It’s a lot of money and I’m not sure it’ll be practical enough to justify”

    Made up my mind to nix that idea and head for home for now. As I was leaving, saw a used Suzuki Savage LS650 motorcycle on consignment. $1700. Bought it on impulse. No clue how to ride, but my boss used to ride and conned him into teaching me.

    Fell in love instantly.

    Scooters sure have some nice amenities, the storage, the simplicity, less maintenance compared to the bikes I’ve owned since. But the sticker price on anything that can handle 55-70mph for some folks commutes. It’s just not that attractive.

    I admit that I think about getting an MP3 sometimes, but when I can get a used 750cc any-bike for less than 1/2 the cost. It’s hard to continue that thought.

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  8. Pete says:

    Have in my garage, besides a car, an R1200GS & a Piaggio MP3 (500cc version). The GS is my ‘adventure touring machine’ – I ride it maybe once a week, & for extended cross-country trips. I ride the Piaggio every day – to the market, the PO, to do chores, you name it. It is a supremely practical machine for everyday transportation around town – but can also travel longer distances, in a pinch. I love my MP3. It won’t ever take the place of a “real motorcycle” for me, but is a great supplement.

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  9. johnny ro says:

    agree overall. In a better world we would all have minimalist transport machinery. And its a lot of fun.

    I just picked up a TW200. A strong scooter alternative that also climbs mountains and fords streams. Next bike, have a strong desire for TU250. Would already have SR400 if it were sold here. Might get a blackbird though.

    I will never bring a bike anywhere near Boston. They stay up in the NH mountains. Riding a bike around Boston is about as safe as walking naked, blindfolded, on the road. I know I would die a messy death and the text messaging driver will get off easy. Down here I drive a 3800 lb cage, just waiting to be rear ended again. Wish its manufacturer in Ingolstadt offered their excellent 2.0 diesel here, but they don’t.

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  10. Bullet Bob says:

    I own a Guzzi 1200 Sport (most fun bike I’ve ever owned) and a BMW R1200RT. Between the two I put about 10K miles a year on motorcycles. I purchased a Suzuki 400 Burgman for my wife. She decided she didn’t like riding so I sold it. Bad idea! It got 65MPG, would hold 4 bags of groceries under the seat, handled great, had great weather protection, and would do 85 on the interstate all day long. I would buy one again for a commuter in a heartbeat.

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  11. Max Frisson says:

    Recently a local Scooter shop loaned me a 125 Kymco for a group ride. I ride a MV Agusta with gets slightly better mileage than my V8 SUV. Frankly I had tons of fun, saw things along the route I would have never noticed on the bike because the Brutale commands all your attention. I found the scooter very relaxing, much more so than any of my recent big bikes. So I am looking around right now for a 250 to add to my garage. If I had a commute to work [I work from a home office],I would do it on a 250 scooter rather than a small bike. The storage is useful and the relaxed pace I find pleasing. From what I understand they also have an advantage in insurance costs. When I was younger my first street bike was a Yamaha Twin Jet 100 and then a 160 Ducati then a 250 Suzuki. I rode the Yamaha more than once over 70 miles one-way on weekend trips to a nearby big city. I rode my X6 more than 1000 miles in a week in the summer of 1969 We have gotten spoiled by large displacement bikes in the US.

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  12. shane says:

    The initial point is correct, bikes are considered toys and not practical transport in the US. I do think that the moto-journalists are part of the problem. How many times a year does Cycle World do a cover story on the GSXR-1000? It’s all they can talk about.

    If the industry and the press would highlight more practical bikes then maybe it would have an effect. But we as consumers/riders are part of the problem. We don’t buy practical bikes, not even as a first bike. Way too often I see beginners on a 600cc sport bike, usually not a good choice. But the industry doesn’t bring a lot of the good smaller bikes here. It’s a little chicken and egg.

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    • Gabe says:

      As a guy who worked at Cycle World, I can tell you that the reason the big flashy sportbikes and cruisers get the cover shots is because that’s what readers want to look at. Put a scooter on the cover and nobody will pick up the magazine at the supermarket or grocery store.

      Trust me, motojournalists have a broad interest in all kinds of bikes, not just open-class literbikes: they’re enthusiasts, just like you and me. They’re just doing what all good capitalists do, responding to market demand. If there ever is a movement towards more practical two-wheelrs in the USA, it will be led by consumers, not the moto-media.

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  13. Mark says:

    I live in Nebraska and I cherish the 6 months or so that I can ride. After that, it just doesn’t make sense to have two-wheeled transportation. Heck, I’m thinking about trading in my Civic for a small SUV or truck this winter just to deal with the snow. So yeah, don’t expect many scooter sales in “flyover country.”

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  14. joe says:

    The Piaggio MP3 is sort of interesting and I think if I were interested in commuting on a scooter that would be the one. 2 problems:
    1. I’m a motorcycle kind of guy, can’t really see myself on a scooter. I can only stand the MP3 because its different enough to look outrageous.
    2. The MP3 is way, way too expensive and from what I can see does not have great resale value.

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  15. richard forre says:

    My old Honda civic and newer motorcycle get about the same mileage, and overall the civic is cheaper to own and operate. If not for legalized lane splitting here in CA and easier parking not sure why I’d commute on my bike.

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  16. bikerrandy says:

    We have 7 rigs from 50cc to 950cc. 3 are scooters and 4 are bikes. For around town I use the 250 MP3(70 mpg) and 500 Aprilia scooter(55 mpg). You wouldn’t believe how much groceries I can get on either($50)one. The 500GT Aprilia scooter is just that, 2up over 200 miles between fill-ups and cruising @ 80 mph while getting 55 mpg on regular. The 250 MP3 will cruise @ 65 mph. If I want more speed I ride 1 of my bigger bikes, but to tell you the truth the scooters are so darn convenient, the bikes are hardly ridden nowadays except on some trips.

    I just put a car tire on the rear of the MP3 since it’s 12″ tire only lasts 3-4K miles. That should now last at least 40K miles.

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  17. Drew Kazee says:

    I am 54, have owned a BMW K1200R, Roadstar, Honda 919 and now own A sportster Iron with the 1250 kit. On the scooter side, I have a Vespa S150, Yamaha Zuma 125 and 50 thats been “upgraded”. There are quite a few scooter riders in this area of Ky. And I will say, when I want to take a relaxing ride and enjoy the scenery, my buddy and I jump on our scooters. And yes you will pay more for a Vespa, but the quality of the Yamahas won’t match it.
    Drew in Ky

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  18. Greg Z says:

    Google “Honda Wave 125″ and you’ll what I was talking about in my previous post. These are taking over Asia.

    While in Hong Kong I talked to the KTM/Piaggio dealer about the Piaggio’s with dual front tires. Apparently they are a huge hit in that city because of the extra traction and little worry of the front end sliding out on a wet city corner. They look cool too.

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  19. Greg Z says:

    The previous poster had it right on about the 125cc motor-bikes. Scooters have no power to keep up or get out of the way of distracted SUV drivers in the U.S. And their small tires get twitchy at higher speeds.

    I came back from a deployment which stopped in many Asian countries and by far the most used transportation that I saw were 125cc big wheel scooter/motorcycles. They were everywhere! And they had power to go on the highway, hold 2 adults, and the big tires look like they handle the rough roads okay. Where are those in the U.S.?

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  20. Vroooom says:

    I commute by bike 9 out of 10 days in Portland, OR. Unfortunately that commute involves about 10 miles of 55+ speeds, so a scooter isn’t a great option, never mind the lack of fairing for rain coverage on many (but not all) scooters. I agree with a previous poster however, that at each manufacturer should focus at least one model on fuel economy and practicality. I have a diesel Eurovan that gets about 40 mpg, and none of my bikes do more than 45 mpg, that doesn’t make sense. I’d live with less ponies to get 75-100 mpg or so.

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  21. Scott says:

    I’ve been commuting on a scooter (Honda Reflex, now Suzuki Burgman) for 5 years now. When you factor in parking (cheap, sometimes free) and good gas mileage, the finances work out about even with driving. The fact that I don’t get stuck in traffic and that my commute is fun is an extra bonus.

    In terms of getting more people to behave sensibly… Six months of high gas prices did more than 25 years of preaching. If you’re serious about the environment, increasing the gas tax by $2/gallon is the only credible policy.

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  22. ryan says:

    Hyosung gt650r are less than 4000.00 ..

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  23. Thad Stely says:

    They don’t make sense here because…
    1. They cost as much as a larger displacement motorcycle
    2. Our gas prices are comparatively low
    3. We cover greater distances along with comparatively less density
    4. We are competing with larger vehicles on average
    5. And if these were not the facts of our environment, I would rather spend my money on a small displacement, vintage Japanese bike.

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  24. Dylan Farr says:

    I use my bike for commuting almost everyday… Its a deadly proposition in LA but its like that anywhere. I think the manufacturers are coming up short too. Remember you meet the nicest people on a honda (I think that was the marketing deal) Keep up the good work MD.

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  25. Neil says:

    I rode a Suzuki TU250 after owning many larger bikes and losing my bike budget recently. The TU is a great bike. I also had a Yamaha Zuma 125 which had horridly harsh suspension for New England’s rough roads. I wished the Zuma had a flat chassis but it slanted from back to front and that also bothered my back. – The TU has been fantastic on back roads, two lane highways and an occasional short highway trip. I replaced the front sprocket to give each gear more speed since it was geared very low for motorcycle classes. I am all for the press giving the green light to small bikes and scooters as transportation since at age 49 that it exactly what my TU is!

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  26. Takeikes says:

    Lets all face it, we don’t “need” any of the bikes we ride. When I commuted in SoCal for years and only had a bike for transportation I used a Honda 350. Relatively light and decent power and big enough to haul me and a few groceries now and then. These days a 250 would be perfect for it especially since it could keep up when needed in traffic. Price point has to be low, zip for maintenance and great mileage then you will sell them. $5-6k for a Vespa? What the hell for?
    That said I’m as guilty as all of you, I ride a chopped 1,700cc Roadstar that I built. It’s not a commuter, its for fun so I guess I am the enemy! Push came to shove though and I’d dump it and go back to somewhere around a 250 if I had to commute.

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  27. Bob says:

    It simply comes down to utility. A small scooter has a very small amount of utility in the US compared to the old world. We live further from work, our roads are wider, and speeds faster(typically). This hurts the small scooters, the ones with a premium price especially. Make something for a Ruckus price that does 60mph and you can sell it. I see a lot of chinese scooters (and lower end kymcos which make a great scoot btw), why? Price they are cheap enough to justify to ride just in your town. Most of the Paggios, Derbis, and Aprilias I’ve seen are too expensive to justify it for utility rather than passion.

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  28. richard grumbine says:

    Scooters scare me.. I hate riding them… and limiting their speed to well below the flow of traffice makes them doubly scary. (30kph limit here in Japan).. but Sam is right on when he says 125s are the way to go… these small bikes are fun, nimble, and unintimidating… not to mention they sip gas… I looked at a 125 yamaha race replica today… SWEET! Might be my wife’s first bike! She is taking classes now…

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  29. Dave says:

    Scooters are a tough sell in most of America due to distances traveled by the average person to commute to/from work.

    But I still don’t understand why a 600cc bike only gets 35-36mpg, maybe because the press rates all tests on performance rather than usability.
    Would love to see a 650 motorcycle available that would give 70 mpg in normal use on regular gas. My V-Strom got 48-50 and my 955cc Triumph Sprint gives 50 mpg.

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  30. MGNorge says:

    Piaggio’s bosses sound like they want their cake and eat it too. Nothing unusual there. Small scooters make sense on islands and in small towns where the weather is good but when gas is relatively a good deal here compared to Europe we also have alternatives. We like our comfort and we like our safety.

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  31. ediehl says:

    Economy? I actually considered a scooter (sorta—the MP3) when I was thinking about 3-wheelers a couple years ago, but I was appalled at the prospect of high maintenance costs. Seems that I remember the belt-drive transmission alone required frequent servicing. I teach bike safety classes, and when a student says they’re in it for economy, I gently advise them that that is entirely possible if they’re serious about getting a truly frugal bike (read modest, small displacement), but that in reality most people spend considerably more money day-to-day on their bikes than they do on their cars. I have 5 bikes and only one (WR250R) can boast better mileage numbers than my wife’s Prius. Her tires will last—I dunno, 60,000 miles?–and their eventual replacement will not cost a heckuva lot more than a pair of sport-bike tires that last maybe a 10th as many miles (at best).

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  32. sherm says:

    I agree with Jeff above. Most states limit the maximum speed, generally 30 mph, for scooters that don’t require a motorcycle license. In my opinion any vehicle that can’t keep up with prevailing traffic is a danger to the rider and other vehicles. Outside of the stop and go city traffic, 40 to 60 mph speeds are common (not counting Interstates).

    If a non-rider asked my opinion about buying a 30 mph scooter, I would say don’t do it unless you’ll be riding it exclusively within a traffic congested city.

    If the moto media wanted to get involved with helping to popularize scooters, maybe a place to start is campaigning for a higher speed capability (say 60/70 mph) for automobile licensed drivers. “Faster Scooters Save Lives”. With a higher speed limit, the OEM’s would have a new target for cheap high mpg machines.

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    • Bill says:

      Even in the city, traffic can move in bursts far beyond 30 MPH. Ever see the traffic in NYC? It easily exceeds 50 MPH not to mention the chaos factor. No thanks.

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  33. Burt says:

    Relax licensing laws for scooters?
    Because they’re so cute and harmless?
    Yes, less rider education is always a good idea.

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  34. Wendy says:

    Let’s talk price. A new Vespa approaches $6,000. That isn’t a great value propostion. There are any number of used bikes and even sadly cars that make more sense at that price. In yurp, there are draconian laws, insurance regs and crowding that make scooters make sense. If it cost $60.00 to fill the tank of your car, like it did two years ago, then people would see the value in that scooter. Until it snowed.

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  35. JC says:

    Scooters make more sense where lane-spliting is permited. Otherwise, (I own a Piaggio MP3 500 in TX) the advantage over a small car is minimal.

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  36. Bill W says:

    The other issue in the U.S. is distance. We have lots of it. When I was riding in Spain, you could easily go from Barcelona to Southern France in a day. When I was living in New York City, it sometimes took me an hour and a half to get to … New Jersey (and not the nice part). Outside of big cities and California, scooters and small displacement bikes are just more practical and appealing in Europe.

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  37. Dave Eakin says:

    The cost per mile is still too high to be considered a viable option in the USA. Sure, the MPG and initial cost is better than a car but add in all the tire changes, oil changes, valve adjustments, protective clothing, etc. to run a vehicle 10-15K miles/year and the Hyundai/Kia/Scion/Toyota/Honda offerings start to make more sense. Especially if you face routine inclement/cold weather or need to carry more than 1 extra person or 1 bag of groceries. If using a 50cc scooter is practical anywhere in the USA, I’d bet you could walk there too.

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  38. Bruce says:

    Jeff is correct, the process of obtaining a motorcycle license before one can legally operate a small displacement scooter is intimidating to many potential scooter buyers and a different standard for them could increase sales. Not to mention that the licensing requirement inhibits impulse buys. Scooters are practical and a lot of fun, and I hope they can pick up more market share. I have a couple of large displacement machines…a superbike and a sport-tourer, as well as a dual-sport, but that doesn’t stop me from pulling out my 50cc scooter for a quick trip out to get some milk or bread…it’s quick, fun and convenient.

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  39. Marc says:

    Every time I drive by the Claremont Colleges here in SoCal I wonder why there isn’t a local Vespa dealer that sells, rents for the school year scooters. Throw in a espresso/bakery/trendy Italian clothing shop and you can hook them young.

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  40. jeff says:

    I think that the state DOTs should relax the requirement for a license. Up it from 50cc to maybe 150 or 200cc scooters to only need auto drivers license and I bet you sell more scooters.

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  41. Bob K. says:

    Like you I live in So. Cal. Face it, for commuting , a maxi-scoot is the only practical option as far as scooter transportation is concerened. Yamaha, Honda, and Suzuki all have much longer recommended valve adjustment intervals than the big Piaggios, even the MP3s. So they need to fix that to be serious about that market.

    I would love to have a Vespa, but it would only be because I wanted one forty-seven years ago, when I had to settle for a 55cc Yamaha MJ2.

    As for the smaller scooters — great for San Francisco, or to ride from the retirement home to Stater Brothers in Sun City.

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  42. Ray Nielsen says:

    Scooters sold better when gas approached $4 a gallon! They’re sitting in the show rooms now. Let’s put a $1 gallon additional tax on gas and use the money for road improvements — in MN they’re in terrible shape. Then, watch the demand go up for scooters AND small motorcycles that get good gas mileage.

    Ray Nielsen, in MInneapolis and went for a ride today!

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    • Bill says:

      Jeez Ray, more taxes? If governments – local, state, federal – were efficient and honest nobody would need to pay more taxes. You’d pay less taxes. You trust that MN govt to spend your buck a gallon on roads? I don’t, not here in Jersey anyway. If scooters made sense, people would buy them without government social engineering. I think that where they do make sense, people are buying them.

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      • Shane says:

        Not True. A consumer tends to buy a good to the extent that the good benefits the consumer with little regard to the external effects on others. Gasoline is an excellent example of a good with modest marginal benefits (larger, heavier cars) and huge negative externalities (air pollution, foreign relations issues, traffic, road costs, poor public transportation).

        That said, I’d be reluctant to give up my liter bike for a “Fly”.

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  43. Sam says:

    How about a 125! Yamaha or Honda should take note too and offer the 125′s they have across the pond. Not only are they wonderful intro bikes, they are a hoot to ride around town.

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    • Dooglas says:

      Yamaha does sell it’s two most popular 125 scooters in the US. And Honda sells the SH150 here, the best selling scooter in Europe.

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      • Sam says:

        I was referring to the motorcycle versions. Not the scooters. Heck they can sell the scoots, why not bring over a pint size R series from yamaha or the CB series! I’d snap one of those up in a heart beat.

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