I haven’t talked about the new BMW scooters much here, mainly because I’ve always felt once you hit 350cc or so, there’s not much difference between a scooter and a motorcycle, aside from an automatic transmission.
Scooter fans remember that the Vespa was borne of necessity and utility and was once the toast of of the motoring world for its efficiency and design, both visually and mechanically. History always suggested to me that if scooters were truly to catch on in America (as opposed to occasional fads), it would be an equally efficient and simple model from a innovative startup, but with modern conveniences and a lot of advertising money. It’d probably be electric, but it’d be street legal and convenient, and would win us all over somehow.
The response to the BMW scooters makes me wonder how wrong I am. I’ve never seen a scooter get so much coverage in American mainstream media. Maybe PiaggioUSA was right, maybe scooters will never succeed in America without being considered a luxury, and Piaggio/VespaUSA’s only failure was lack of name recognition and advertising/PR smarts. There are few people in America that don’t recognize the BMW name, and even in a dreadful economy, there are plenty of Americans who gleefully snap up wonderful-but-overkill BMWs, Audis, Leicas, and Tiffany jewelry. Nowhere in the world does a brand name matter more than in America. Only in America would people buy $8,000 scooters to save gas money. It was logical that they’d pay even more for a scooter bearing a blue and white rondel.
I’ve said before: while media and scooter dealers love to use the economy and gas prices to hype scooters, but American scooter buyers use those factors as justification to buy themselves expensive toys. Scooters are recreation here, not transportation, and boy do Americans love to spend money to forget about their money problems.
So that’s why I’m not very excited about BMW’s 2012 scooters. I’ve got no problem with their modernity. They’re probably very well-made (Though it seems likely the engines are coming from Kymco, who’d be happy to sell you a good scooter for much less). They’re also handsome, and more than up to the job of schlepping you around town. They’ll almost certainly do well in Europe, where it actually makes economic and practical sense to buy a luxurious scooter rather than a small car. But there’s very little ‘scooter’ in these BMWs, or at least little of what originally attracted me to scooters.