By Karin Gelschus
The main reasons why scooters have sold in the past — gas prices and practicality — haven’t changed, but increasingly popularity is becoming part of the reason for consumers to eye such vehicles.
Despite increased popularity, scooter sales have been slightly mixed for both manufacturers and dealers this year. Of those companies seeing decreased numbers, some say it’s because of the U.S. economy. There have also been shifts in high and low displacement scooters as well as segment demographics.
The down economy hasn’t been a problem for Schwinn scooters though. Schwinn Vice President George Simone says the company has seen a 10-15 percent sales increase over last year. Although a portion of that increase can be attributed to Schwinn’s increasing dealer network, Simone believes the increasing popularity of scooters vs. a few years ago is key.
“We just happen to be taking advantage of the product increasing in popularity,” he said.
Martin Solano, president of Solano Cycle dealership in St. Augustine, Fla., said it’s “a snowball effect.”
“The more people who buy them, the more people you see on the road with them, the more other people are willing to buy them,” he said.
Even though popularity is increasing, Bruce Ramsey, vice president of sales and marketing for KYMCO USA, says scooter sales are slightly down for KYMCO and the market.
“We’re pretty much on par with the market,” Ramsey said. “Last month (September) was up, but overall the year’s been down.”
“The fact of the matter is business is off,” said Don Dressel of Moto Bravo in Atlanta, Ga. “During August and September, we probably hit two-thirds of our sales from last year.”
LS MotorSports President Mathu Solo, whose company distributes Diamo and ItalJet scooters among other powersports vehicles, has seen different results. He said scooter sales have been strong this year with double digit growth.
How much higher gas prices will impact scooter sales is also up for debate.
Schwinn’s Simone says scooters will stay popular if there continues to be high energy costs because people are going to want a more efficient mode of transportation. “I don’t think we’re going to see less expensive energy costs,” he said.
But dealers interviewed said gas prices only increase scooter sales when there’s a sudden price increase.
Bob Hedstrom, owner of Scooterville in Minneapolis, says gas prices come up in conversation but only when there’s a spike in price.
“$3 used to be the panic range, and now it’s $3.40,” he said. “[Potential customers] are trying to throw as much practically at is as possible. Before you go and shell out $2,500 for something, you have to do a little self-justification.”
Plus, Solano of Solano Cycle says sudden gas increases are too tough to anticipate and try to accommodate the sales surges.
“It’s a gamble if you do that,” Solano noted. “In the winter, we have about 60 or 70 new scooters between our two stores, so we can take a rush from customers and not run out of scooters.”
HIGHER VS. LOWER DISPLACEMENT
Traditionally, the 50cc models have been the hot sellers, and both Schwinn’s Simone and Florida dealer Solano say it’s because people don’t need a motorcycle license to drive one in most states.
“Our 150cc model does very well for us, but a lot of people don’t buy them because they need to get that endorsement,” Simone said.
Solano says the engine size depends on your type of customers.
“At the University of Florida, all they want is 50cc,” he said, “but that’s not true in St. Augustine where you have older people buying large bikes.”
Ramsey of KYMCO says the 49cc class is still his largest segment, and he doesn’t see any other segments capable of overtaking it, again because most state laws don’t require a motorcycle license for smaller displacement scooters.
Scooterville’s Hedstrom says he’s seen a push in the middle engine range.
“A lot of urban people are needing something that will go in the 35-40 mph range. We have really landed pretty solidly in the 125-150cc range,” he noted. “We’re still doing a fair amount of the moped class, but it seemed like this year there was a drop-off of the 250-500cc range. That was an area I was anticipating some growth.”
Dressel of Moto Bravo says in the past two years he’s seen an increase in middle to larger displacement bikes. However, he says it’s difficult to say exactly what’s happening because of the slow market.
“We’re definitely seeing about 25 percent increase in the number of sales for the 125cc and up in displacement scooters,” he said. “Of the people moving to bigger engines, it’s people moving up, so it’s not taking away from the smaller engine sales.”
Scooters are becoming more mainstream from college students to retirees.
The demographic isn’t what was expected from Schwinn’s Simone, who originally thought he’d be looking at a younger group.
“A lot of our initial efforts were geared toward college students and young professionals,” he said. “We have seen a more mature market. It’s more 30-, 40- and 50 year-olds riding them.”
Dressel of Moto Bravo says his dealership’s age demographic is increasing.
“The demographic is going up as far as age, but mainly for the larger-displacement units in the last year,” he said, “and that’s pushed our demographic up for our store.”
Hedstrom of Scooterville says the bulk of his demographic is 35-65 years old, but this year college students have made a bigger impression in the industry.
“When we opened up real close to campus (University of Minnesota), we thought that student purchases of scooters seemed like a natural fit; it happens a lot say in Madison, Wis. It just wasn’t really taking off for the first few years,” Hedstrom said. “What we are seeing this year, which is a differentiation from the past few, is more students.”
Solano says he’s noting the same things from his dealership close to the University of Florida. “A lot of these colleges don’t have any more space for parking, yet enrollment keeps increasing,” he said. “Scooters are a solution to that.”
In addition to college students, Simone says women are increasing Schwinn’s scooter sales. “We had always thought that would be a strong demographic for us,” he said, “but it’s actually exceeded our expectations.”
However, Hedstrom says he’s always been in the vicinity of 50/50 men and women. Whether women have been an increasing demographic, Solo says the overall demographic is widening, and it’s not just one demographic.
“What we have seen is a continued increase in sales across every demographic as scooters become more accepted and popular in the U.S.,” he said.