Record gasoline prices are fueling a boom in sales of fuel-efficient scooters across the United States, as commuters ditch their gas-guzzlers and don helmets and goggles to beat high prices at the pump.
U.S. scooter sales have risen 65.7 percent in the first half of 2008, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, making the industry one of the biggest beneficiaries of a more than 30 percent spike in oil prices this year.
"They are just flying out of here," said Steve Travers, who manages a scooter and motorcycle dealership in midtown Manhattan. "Consumers want to escape gas prices, they can't afford to drive their cars and they want an inexpensive way to get around."
Among the most popular are scooters manufactured by companies such as Vespa-maker Piaggio, Yamaha Motor and Honda Motor whose price tags range from $1,800 to $7,500.
At Piaggio, sales in the first quarter were up 74 percent from the same time a year ago, said Paolo Timoni, chief executive and president of Piaggio Group Americas.
"We have seen this growth accelerating month after month. It appears that $4 per gallon has tilted the mood of a lot of consumers who are saying 'enough is enough'," said Timoni.
At the same time, automakers have been badly hurt by the spurt in gas prices, with demand falling just as sharply for gas-guzzling sports utility vehicles and light trucks and mini-vans.
At between 70 and 90 miles per gallon, a scooter holding a single gallon of gasoline can last some commuters all week.
"I'm approached every time I go to the gas station by people asking 'where did you get that', 'how much does that cost', and 'where can I get one?"' said Jonathan Perkel, a co-founder of the New York Scooter Club.