Motorized scooter sales were up 38% in 2002, ending the year at 38,973 units, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council (MIC), which obtains Scooter unit figures from Honda, Yamaha, Aprilia and, as of this year, Suzuki and Vespa.
As of the end of September 2003, 39,403 scooters had been sold in the U.S. this year, according to the MIC. That’s up from the 33,441 sold for the same nine-month period in 2002, representing a change of 5,962 units or 17.8%. While last year’s September sales were 128% higher than sales in September 2001, this year’s published increase was aided by numbers submitted by the newcomer, Suzuki. Numbers from 2002 were adjusted for Vespa sales.
A number of firms involved in the U.S. scooter trade say they disregard the MIC numbers, telling Powersports Business that actual annual scooter sales in the U.S. hover at over 100,000.
Bruce Ramsey is director of sales and marketing at STR, Inc., Motorsports Division, the importer and distributor of the much-heralded Kymco product from Taiwan. STR does not report its sales to the MIC.
“The MIC is only reporting a tiny fraction of what is really going on out there,” Ramsey said. “The market as a whole, from my opinion, is much closer to 125,000 or 150,000 units. On my side alone, I’ll have 5,000 or 6,000 units that aren’t reported to them.
“Then, let’s face it, there are around 40-some importers out there moving units. If they’re each selling 2,000 units, we’ve got a bigger number than what is being reported.”
Ramsey said STR’s scooter sales are up 25% to 30% compared to the same period last year.
“We find that the market is growing, but it’s mainly in the $600 Chinese scooter category,” said Joel Martin, president of Miami-based Malaguti USA, an importer and distributor of Italian-made scooters that also does not report to the MIC. “It’s like a pyramid with the Chinese bikes at the bottom. As the pyramid gets wider, their numbers grow ten-fold compared to the top European brands.”
American Honda’s Jon Seidel maintained that “the MIC is the main retail reporting agency that most of the major scooter manufacturer’s use,” but admitted that, “with the influx of scooters from China, it is hard to report an accurate number.”
Nevertheless, Seidel said Honda retailed 15,000 scooters in the U.S. during 2002, a 30% increase in sales compared to 2001, and said the company anticipates ending 2003 with a 15% to 20% increase.
“Sales remain strongest on the coasts, but are picking up momentum across the country as evidenced by our national sales,” he said. “We’re currently up over 16% from last year.”
Yamaha’s Brad Banister told Powersports Business his company has the number one and number two best-selling scooters on the market right now: the 50cc Zuma and the 50cc Vino, respectively.
“Sales of the popular Zuma have only been limited by supply, and dealers tell us they can sell every unit they get,” Banister said. “The scooter market has a cyclical history; the industry is currently in a growth mode, and so we will see sales continue to grow.”
At Aprilia USA, another firm reporting numbers to the MIC, sales also look promising. Robert Pandya, marketing coordinator, said Aprilia scooter sales are doing “very well,” responsible for half of the Italian firm’s sales in the U.S.
“We’re seeing continued growth, particularly in California and Florida,” Pandya said. “We’re selling the smaller models to RV’ers and campus types, but we’ve also had great success with the highway-legal models.”
Costantino Sambuy, president of Vespa USA, a newcomer to the MIC, quoted the 17.8% 2003 market growth rate published by the MIC and, calling the market “pure potential,” indicated that the U.S. scooter business is healthy and still growing.
“We just began retailing our two models, the Burgman 400 and Burgman 650, last spring, but we expect to retail 3,000 to 4,000 units combined by the end of the year,” said American Suzuki’s Mark Reese. “The dealers tell us the market is still developing, but that they see a lot of potential.”
Reese said Suzuki’s units have done well in larger metro areas like New York, Chicago and L.A.
While Suzuki has a number of scooter models available to consumers in other parts of the world, Reese said the company chose to enter the U.S. market with only its two “maxi” scooters because, “we felt these two models, with their type of performance and features, were a good starting point for us in the U.S. market.”
But, while smaller displacement scooters continue to outsell larger models, Suzuki isn’t alone in bringing the maxi model to market: Honda, Aprilia and STR, among others, also appear to believe bigger is better.
Including ABS models, Honda offers nine models ranging from its 50cc Metropolitan and Ruckus to the 600cc Silver Wing, “Consumers are looking for larger cc models as evidenced by the success of our flagship Silver Wing and Reflex models,” said Honda’s Seidel. For 2004, Honda brought back the 250cc Helix in 11 new colors.”
“Our larger displacement models are doing well,” said Aprilia USA’s Pandya. Pandya said Aprilia consumers are looking for “all types” of scooter, but “particularly larger touring scooters” — like the Atlantic 500 and new-for-2004 Scarabeo 500.
“The 50s still by far out-sell the larger displacements,” said STR’s Bruce Ramsey, “but there’s still a big push for bigger machines. So, since there is this solid trend towards larger displacement scooters in the U.S., we obviously want to introduce more larger displacement units like the Bet & Win 250, People 250 and a 500 planned as an ‘05.
In contrast, Yamaha banks on the sales of small displacement scooters in the U.S. and remains soft on larger displacement models.
“In Europe, there is an increasing trend towards larger, more ‘motorcycle-like’ scooters, and Yamaha has several successful Europe-only products in the larger displacement categories,” Banister said. “But, while there is interest (for maxi scooters) in the U.S. market, it is not what I would call overwhelming.
“We’ve heard some dealers and customers are interested in them, but until we see market data that shows support for this type of product, our customers will have to wait.”
Malaguti USA’s Martin seems to have a similar belief: “I think I was wrong about the market last year; the trend is still toward the 49cc category,” he said. “The big bikes are being pushed on the dealers, but most of the dealers I meet are not really selling them in big numbers when compared to the 49cc bikes. You have to have them in this market, but they don’t necessarily sell as quickly.”
Copyright 2004 Powersports Business