As Gas Prices Soar, So Do Motor Scooter Sales

High gasoline prices are driving sales of motor scooters. They get much better mileage than cars — up to 100 mpg.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

We know gas prices are going up. People are looking for ways to save. More are taking public transportation, and some are swapping their cars for motor scooters. They get up to 100 miles to the gallon, as Cyrus Farivar reports.

CYRUS FARIVAR: These days, scooters are flying off the showroom floor faster than you can say Vespa. In New York, the local scooter club has seen an increase in membership over the last several months. In Chicago, manufacturer Genuine Scooters is selling in record numbers, and here at the San Francisco Scooter Center, owner Barry Gwin says that he's been selling out of his entire stock every month.

Mr. BARRY GWIN (Owner, San Francisco Scooter Center): Six months ago, we were probably selling five or six scooters a month, and now we're probably like selling close to 40 scooters a month. So gas prices absolutely has made a difference in our sales.

FARIVAR: Gwin's not the only. The Motorcycle Industry Council reports that scooter sales nationwide are up almost 25 percent. Gwin adds that not only are consumers attracted by the higher gas mileage, but also because it's significantly cheaper than something like a Toyota Prius.

Mr. GWIN: The whole package - scooter, helmets, everything - you'd probably be into for in the ballpark of $2,700.

FARIVAR: So definitely under $3,000.

Mr. GWIN: Definitely under $3,000. So it's an easy, economical way to get around town and really have a lot of fun doing it and look good at the same time.

FARIVAR: On a recent Saturday afternoon, Gwin spent a few minutes talking with Kevin O'Neill(ph) and Lynn Beach(ph), a couple who just bought their first scooter a week before. They came in to shop for a helmet.

Mr. GWIN: You just want to make sure your helmet fits you correctly.

FARIVAR: Beach says that with her scooter, she's not just looking forward to getting better gas mileage.

Ms. LYNN BEACH: So, with a scooter, I'm going to drive to and from work without any problem, and anytime we want to go anywhere, we'll have a place to park, and we'll be there within a reliable amount of time.

FARIVAR: Later that afternoon, I went for a ride with Beach on her scooter, an almost-new Vespa.

Ms. BEACH: Let's take this corner and see how it goes.

FARIVAR: All right.

(Soundbite of scooter)

Ms. BEACH: You must be some sort of thrill-seeker.

FARIVAR: I hopped on the back while she drove around the mostly empty parking lot within sight of the Golden Gate Bridge. She seemed to have a natural feel for the scooter, gracefully easing into the turns around a couple of potted trees. By the end, she was very much looking forward to riding with her fiance.

Are you liking it?

Ms. BEACH: This is fun. We're going to have a blast on this.

FARIVAR: Back at San Francisco Scooter Center, experienced riders like Gwin, the shop owner, say scooters can be really dangerous. There's not much between you and the road. Julie Getner(ph), president of the San Francisco Scooter Girls, says that it's crucial to ride safely.

Ms. JULIE GETNER (President, San Francisco Scooter Girls): Everything in life has it risks. So you gauge if the risk is worth it for you, do everything you can to mitigate it and, you know, prevent it or keeping it from being worse than it might be, you know, wear all the gear all the time.

FARIVAR: Shop owner Barry Gwin says he's thinking of a promotion offering free gas all summer with every new scooter purchase. The mileage is so good, he figures it would only cost him an extra 40 bucks per scooter. For NPR News, I'm Cyrus Farivar.

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