How big is the “Scooter Boom”?

An article from San Diego CityBEAT stood out from the other thousand “Scooters are booming” stories this week. Despite mentioning Audrey Hepburn (DRINK!), author Kelly Davis talked to multiple dealers, riders, and industry sources, and her research (unheard-of in scooter coverage in the media) gives some interesting hard facts we’d never seen elsewhere:

  • “The average scooter buyer is about 46 years old and makes roughly $50,000 a year, according to MIC numbers.”
  • “In 2004, when U.S. scooter sales approached 100,000, by comparison, Ford that year sold roughly 130,000 Mustangs alone.”

So while scooter sales (happily) continue to grow, they’re not necessarily “through the roof” as many of these articles would imply. Furthermore, this boom isn’t a young urban professional movement (as Vespa has insisted since their return), buyers are more likely to be middle-class, suburban baby boomers or retirees. That’s good news– perhaps this is sustainable growth, and a sign that scooters are being accepted by a wider range of riders.

It’s interesting that while most of these “scooter boom” stories focus on the Vespa (many are a direct result of Vespa’s public relations efforts), Vespa likely sold less than a tenth of the 100,000 scooters sold in 2004, and Vespa’s sales actually dropped between 2004 and 2005:

January-August 2005: 7200 units sold
January-August 2004: 7900 units sold
January-August 2003: 6500 units sold
January-August 2002: 4900 units sold
(from Powersports Business, October 17, 2005)

The same source reported Aprilia and Moto Guzzi sales were down 50% in 2004, which may be attributable to financial woes prior to their acquisition by Piaggio.)

The 2004-2005 slide is probably at least partially attributable to the introduction of Piaggio scooters in the US market (it’s unclear whether the numbers include Piaggio, so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt), and it further seems unlikely sales haven’t picked up, perhaps exponentially, this year. These are semi-respectable numbers, on par with Vespa sales in the Fifties and Sixties “boom years.” But they’re certainly not great, considering the growing number of US Vespa dealers and the amount of money spent on marketing. One source estimates a big-city dealer is likely spending $100,000 a year on advertising, half of which is reimbursed by PiaggioUSA. That $100,000 figure also ignores Piaggio USA’s requirement (now increasingly being ignored) that dealers present their scooters in an exclusive (expensive) customized boutique. Considering dealer expense vs. profit per vehicle sold, it seems unlikely that even doubling sales in 2006 could cover the expense of a boutique. Piaggio’s move (in many markets) to traditional motorcycle/scooter shops (and less-pretentious marketing) seems to reinforce this theory, and may turn out to save them. 2006’s sales numbers will shed a good deal more light on the matter, if Vespa (and all scooter) sales aren’t notably higher, this may be a short-lived “boom.”

8 thoughts on “How big is the “Scooter Boom”?”

  1. Nice analysis Beeb. I think the average age and income figures reflect something that would describe the mean numbers for the population over 18 in general. I wonder what the distributions look like. If I were a MIC member or had a spare 100.00 I’d demand a histogram. I recall Bob from Scooterville in Minneapolis saying that when he opened the shop he had some idea of what the customer would be but was soon shown that the buyers came from all walks of life. Regardless of statistics I think the purpose of marketing to the younger urban populace is effective in that’s what people of all ages aspire to be. If you are 21 and not so well off, you want that. And if you are a bit older you may remember those days fondly. If you are that, you’re being told nicely how you should be. It works for everyone!

  2. This figures also echo what I noticed at KRP this year, a lot of older riders on more comfortable bikes. I think that the scooter has become an option for some people who might have instead bought a goldwing or harley to ride around on as a reward for getting all the kids out of the house and off to college. Some of them are buying his and hers matching scooters rather than just one bike for them to two up on.

  3. I find it extremely ironic that the second best-selling Vespa shop in the county is Victor Voris’ in Seattle. Victor was the one and only traditional scooter shop that was given a “boutique” when Piaggio returned in 2000. Appartently the number 1 dealer in the country maintains this position because he gives away Piaggio Zips with every Mercedes that is sold.

    Victor’s and some of the other scooter shops that relate with and understand the scooter scene are some of the most successful shops in the country. I’m not so sure that putting Vespa in motorcycle show rooms will improve sales. All of the Honda dealerships I’ve ever seen have like two scooters hidden in some forgotten corner. There’s too much testosterone in motorcycle shops to sell scooters. The shops that sell scooters to scooterist and understand the importance of having a relationship with local clubs (and the VCOA!) tend to do really well.

  4. “The shops that sell scooters to scooterist and understand the importance of having a relationship with local clubs (and the VCOA!) tend to do really well.”

    I think that’s exactly WHY motorcycle shops are better. Their serivice and salespeople know more about two-wheeled vehicles, and many are involved in motorcycle club and event culture.

    On top of that, a lot of scooters are sold to spouses and children of motorcyclists, and another good number are sold to motorcyclists looking for a more convenient alternative bike.

  5. What’s profitable and what serves the consumer best may have nothing in common.

  6. No, but neither are they mutually exclusive, and when outright greed is tempered in favor of building a solid customer relationship, it generally leads to a more sustainable, long-term success.

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