Ripped from yesteryears’ headlines…

Modernmechanix has a nice set of photos from a 1939 Popular Mechanics piece on scooters.  It mentions a scooter company in Chicago, parking on sidewalks, over 100 mpg and scooters surviving a fad stage.  Some think the ‘scooter boom’ is coming to a close.  But I’d suggest just widening ones view.  Was there a boom?  Is the current buying frenzy just a crest in the sine wave that would look like a steady line from the right perspective?  Thanks to The New Cafe Racer Society for the link.

6 thoughts on “Ripped from yesteryears’ headlines…”

  1. I’d love to see the sine wave, but I overexerted myself on graphs this weekend.

    You’re right, sales are cyclical, hence the sine wave, but a sine wave still has crests and troughs, and we’re probably riding the crest right now. The wavelength hasn’t changed much over the years, but the amplitude has, and when it peaks higher, it troughs lower. I’d bet scooter sales since 1920 look something like this:

    If someone’s got good figures (Gerber, help me out here), I’d love to draw this chart scientficially.

  2. Now if you were to plot it as a scatter plot and do a linear regression, you’d probably get a nice straight line with a positive correlation between time and sales. So even if there is another negative deflection the trough will still be as high as when many shops like POC and Scooterville opened. The existence of sustainable shops will help propogate the phenomenon as when the previous troughs occurred it was likely due to the lack of service available for existing bikes. Used vehicle repair infrastructure could drastically change the way the future waves behave.

    But wasn’t that article funny how it could be text from a story today?

  3. I absolutely agree, but few scooter shops are thinking ahead (and behind) like Scooterville and POC. And it was hard times when they started, and it’ll be hard times again. Just because it will get better eventually doesn’t mean the slump won’t hurt. Hopefully all these people are putting some money away.

    And yes, It is totally funny it could be from today. I’ve seen a lot of old stories like that, i should dig some more up.

    Things never change. Go look at a Spy magazine from 1989 or so, and just switch “Diane Brill” for “Paris Hilton,” “Brooke Shields” for “Lindsay Lohan,” and “George Bush” for “George Bush.”


  4. The boom and bust cycle of the graph is essentially correct, although the bottom part of the trough is actually much lower for certain periods. The great boom periods were 1957-58 (50,000 sold in 1958, of which 20,000 were European); 1963-65 (20,000 Vespas sold in 1964); 1979-89 (20,000 Vespas sold again in 1980); and 1983 -87 (150,000 Japanese scooters sold in 1986). The low point was 1968-72 (only 200 Vespas sold in 1970). My dealer in Minneapolis, Jerry Commers of Cushman Motors, sold 300 Vespas in 1964, 200 in 1965, about 40 in 1966, about a dozen in 1967, and 2 in 1968.There was a mini-boom during the first oil crisis, 1973-74 and another total collapse in 1974. The situation in 1980 was similar to today. Vespa of America was completely sold out of scooters. The buyers I’ve seen in the shops this month, thinking they are going to save big bucks on gas by buying a scooter, are every bit as dumb as those I saw in 1980. But the years 1979-80 provided American scootering with scooters for a quarter century.

    Dealers might make a cautionary note. Sales crashed almost overnight in 1981 and Vespa of America lost about 90% of its low-quality network of several hundred dealers within 6 months. Expecting the boom to continue and not wanting to be caught short again, the company brought in several thousand scooters in 1981. Many of them ended up being shipped outside the U.S. In 1982, I encountered a large batch of American market Vespas being sold in Venezuela. A year later I found a batch of American Vespa 100s being sold in Britain. I am sure they turned up in many other countries as well. New Vespas in crates kept turning up in the U.S. until well into the 90s. In fact, Scooterworks got its start with the discovery of 15 new scooters in crates.

    I’ve seen 1937 Cushman advertisements showing a guy in a suit and fedora astride a Cushman, with the text boldly proclaiming that seemingly magical and eternal incantation “100 Miles to the Gallon!”. Americans did not buy into it then or at any other time, and they won’t buy into it now.

    Piaggio has to understand that they have to sell scootering first – as a hobby, recreational activity, or lifestyle – and then stable and predicatable scooter sales will follow. Scootering has to be legitimized first as a high status activity and then purely utilitarian use will follow. This is essentialy the way it was for bicycles. Several years ago one of the Boston papers featured a story of a group of bicyclist who were making 50 mile a day commutes in the dead of winter. They were commuting not out of reasons of economy or ecology, but out of pure enthusiasm. The same will hold true for scooters.

  5. I agree with the comments in general, but there is one thing in the past that MAY be different this time around. One thing that coincided with a drop in scooter sales in the past was cheap gas. When gas spiked, scooter sales spiked. When gas got relatively cheaper again, sales dropped.

    IF we are near “peak oil,” and world demand for oil keeps increasing, we may not see cheap gas again. I’ve heard some pretty smart and savvy oil industry folks predict that we’ll be paying $6 per gallon by next year. If oil continues to go up, scooter sales will possibly continue to follow that trend. I guess we’ll have to stay tuned…..

  6. VespaNut, you may be right, but I think that’s the thinking every time, too. Gas prices didn’t really “drop” in any of these periods, did they? Maybe I’m wrong, but I think the reality is that they just stabilized and people got used to the price increase. I think that will happen again, though it may rise more before then.

    And while demand is affecting price, a lot of fingers are pointing at artificial factors that will hopefully be reduced once the government isn’t being run by oil company executives. I’m betting we’ll level out by next spring, or in any case, the climb to $5 will happen in little 5¢ increments and no one will freak out. The difference between $3.999 gas and $4.009 gas is far more threatening to people than the difference between $4.209 and $4.299

    You are totally right that a real, serious oil shortage will force consumers and industry to change their ways, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet, and when we are, we’ll quickly realize that there are better ways to address the problem than hybrids and scooters.

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