Piaggio, the parent company of Vespa, held a "scooter salon" in Costa Mesa, California on April 6 in order to publicize the opening of the Piaggo Technical Center. The salon featured scooter rides, a little wine, some chocolate-covered strawberries and a speech by Vespa CEO Paolo Timoni.
A Vespa Ride
The first thing that I did was take a ride on the Vespa GTS 300. I don't have motorcycle or scooter operator's license. So they wouldn't let me drive the scooter, but scooter rides were an offered attraction, and I was going to take advantage of it. Vespa provided me with a helmet and told me that I would have to sit on the back while a Vespa representative drove.
"You should hang onto those bars near the seat," the Vespa representative said. "If you think you are going to fall off, you can grab my shoulders."
"No sharp turns or anything," the Vespa boss shouted to the representative as I climbed on the scooter. The representative laughed, and I did too, mostly because I wanted to seem like I knew what I was getting myself into. I had never been on a scooter or a motorcycle.
I hung onto the bars, but the footholds for the passenger were clipped up against the side, so I had to squeeze my legs around the body of the vehicle or risk being flung off every time we began accelerating. Although the representative told me that I was allowed to grab his arms or his trunk, his body language conveyed a different story.
Eventually, we got to talking.
Scooters Vs. Hummers II
I had recently read an article in the Huffington Post about scooters and Hummers and which polluted more. Surprisingly, the article stated that scooters were almost as bad as SUVs because of their two-stroke engines that spewed excessive non-greenhouse gases. But ultimately, the scooter won out because it took less materials to build.
From US News Circa 2009
Scooters do pollute more than cars. Straight Dope's Cecil Adams says they can legally emit "5.7 times more CO than cars, nearly 24 times more unburned hydrocarbons, and infinitely more NOx [Nitrogen oxides]—and real-world testing suggests they do run pretty dirty.
I asked the representative about this.
Modern Vespas are constructed with four-stroke engines. They also have to pass the Euro 3 Emissions Control Standards which went into effect in 2000.
TH: What's the gas mileage on this model?
V: 60-65 mpg
TH: Are they easy to maintain?
V: Very easy.
From Wired Circa 2002.
At Piaggio's 50th anniversary, in 1996, the company unveiled a cleaner-burning, automatic-transmission 4-stroke engine — the first of its kind for a European scooter. But it was still not good enough for California's tough antipollution laws. By 2000, the company had decreased contaminants 90 percent from 1990 levels and introduced a sleek new line of 4-stroke Vespas to the US. This summer, the company rolled out a separate line of Piaggio-branded scooters, which sell alongside the more expensive Vespas. The hope is that together the two lines will recapture the market share lost to lesser-designed Japanese scooters made by Honda and Yamaha.
On a straightaway, the representative sped up.
V: That was 50mph.
Vespanomics with Paolo Timoni
Timoni stood at a podium in the very crowded lobby of the Piaggo Technical Center. He gave us the lowdown on Vespanomics.
Photo: Laurel Hungerford Photography
Vespa's aim is to infiltrate deeper into the American market, and it hopes to use the recession to do so. As budgets tighten, Timoni hopes that Americans will turn to scooters for their to-work commuting. He realizes that most families will need a sedan for their child-rearing and furniture-purchasing needs but hopes that families will replace their second car with a Vespa.
If Americans were to switch just 10% of their total mileage to scooters, they would consume 14 - 18 million gallons less fuel per day and carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 324 million pounds per day as well. (Source ICR survey, May 2006)
On a personal level, they could also reduce fuel consumption by approximately 58%, carbon dioxide emissions by 80%, and significantly reduce traffic congestion.
Two Wheels Good, Four Wheels Bad
Timoni quoted AAA's Real Cost of Driving study that says owning a car costs the operator $652 dollars a month. Mr. Timoni noted that Vespas cost a fraction of the price of autos, are easier to maintain and use less gas, and he also reminded us that scooters saw an increase in popularity during the gas hike.
Vespas Face Obstacles
According to Timoni, Scooter owners face three large problems. Lane-splitting is illegal in most places. Getting a scooter license is a hassle. ( In Europe, you can operate up to a 150cc scooter with just your car license. ) And there are no parking spaces for scooters. Vespa plans to work with state and local governments to make life easier for potential scooterists.
News on the Vespa Hybrid
The Vespa Hybrid has been pushed back until the first quarter of 2010. It will have two engines, a 125 cc gas engine and a 125 electric engine. It is reported to get 140 miles per gallon.