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Scooter sales soar as gas prices rise

At nearly 90 miles per gallon, scooters prove to be a cheaper alternative to vehicles

By Alan Baker, City Beat Editor

For Dean Christofano the business is the sign of good times, a move in the right direction. As a sales manager at Scooterworks USA, he and his staff can hardly keep up with the demand as more consumers are rolling into the scooter market.

Record fuel prices are putting a burden on drivers, leaving many to opt for cheaper, alternative means of transportation. Business At Scooterworks USA, located at 5410 N. Damen Ave., has remained strong all summer with a considerable pickup within the past week alone.

“From Sept. 1 through Sept. 7 we have doubled our sales from this time last year,” said Christofano, 39, who has been with the company for seven years. “Right now the biggest reason is the gas prices, of course.”

Christofano said that because of the increase in sales, the company is requesting a 48-hour turn around period once people decide to purchase certain models so packaging can be removed and additional parts can be assembled.

Scooterworks USA sells three new models: Stella, Kymco and TN’G. The Stella and TN’G models average 90 miles per gallon and Kymco models can get 70 to 100 mpg depending on speeds.

Vintage Vespas, models before 1985, are also sold at Scooterworks.

“The max I spend by riding to work is a little over $6 a week,” Christofano said. “It’s so much cheaper than driving.”

Christofano said people are starting to realize the savings. According to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a nonprofit association preserving motorcycling in America, close to 1 million people purchased scooters in 2004, up nearly 50 percent from 2000.

“The sales are definitely coming from the gas situation,” said Dan Kay, manager for Vespa Chicago. “I could easily say we have doubled our sales since a year ago.”

For motor vehicles that are fewer than 50 cubic centimeters, such as mopeds or electric scooters, there is no special classification for drivers. Scooters ranging from 50 to 150 CC’s require a Class L drivers license in Illinois as well as state registration and insurance. Any vehicle larger than 150 CC’s is considered a motorcycle.

In an effort to save more money for living expenses, Tracey Gustave recently purchased a used 1978 Garelli Super Sport moped off the Internet after a few of her friends told her they were cheap and easy to get around on.

“With the moped, it’s the same thing as a bike, so you don’t need insurance,” Gustave said. “I don’t plan on spending anymore than $10 a week on gas.”

Previously Gustave was driving about 250 miles a week between school and work. With her new moped she estimates she will get 90 mpg, rather than the 40 mpg she now averages with her Honda Accord.

The market of potential buyers has opened up within the past few years as well, becoming much more diverse.

“The audience is so varied now that just about everybody seems to be purchasing scooters,” Kay said. “I have men in their 60’s and girls in their teens.”

The average age of scooter buyers in 1990 was 26 years old, and almost half of those buyers were students, according to MIC. By 2004 the average age increased to 46 years old, with more than half of the buyers being married.

“It’s a different crowd now,” Christofano said. “Before you had a lot more ‘scenesters’ but now it’s become much more of a vehicle than a play toy, which makes them appealing to everybody.”

One of the biggest benefits for consumers in the market is the warranties that come with scooters. Stella and TN’G each come with a one-year warranty, while Kymco has a two-year warranty.

Warranties give people the mentality they don’t have to worry about upkeep expenses for at least a few years, Christofano said.

As for people who purchase used scooters, Scooterworks USA also services Stella and Kymco scooters while operating a mail order catalog that has the largest stock of vintage Vespa parts in North America.

The market started picking up in the United States once Vespa manufacturer Piaggio reentered the market back in 2000, according to Kay.

“It was a close-minded market up until that point,” Kay said. “People were thinking of the Vespa as something from the 60s”

Larger distribution, model sizes, dealerships and reasonable prices have helped get people out of that mindset, Kay said.

Scooters with fewer than 50 cubic centimeters cost between $700 and $900. Larger models, 50 cubic centimeters and up, range from $2,000 to $6,000. The most popular models are priced at just over $3,000 and include tax, title and registration.

“Every scooter has its own personality just like its owner,” Christofano said. “I hope people see that and we get more scooters onto the road.”

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