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Scooting thru Vespanomics 101

Thursday, December 11, 2008
The Vespa name means scooter.
The Italian wasp is luring Americans who want to do something about high gas prices and ever-growing greenhouse gas emissions.
What is Vespanomics?

The ecological, economic and personal satisfaction one achieves after buying a Vespa scooter. Vespanomics promotes embracing motor scooters as an alternative form of transportation to reduce oil consumption, pollution and traffic congestion.

This definition above comes from Vespa’s own website. A clever marketing strategy for the brand synonymous with scooter, Vespanomics has been winning converts. Sales of scooters jumped this summer along with record high gas prices. MotorcycleUSA joined the trend with a Vespa GTS 250 test scooter as our summer commuter. It was an opportunity to put Vespanomics to the test.

Does Vespanomics Make Cents?

The bulk of Piaggio Group’s Vespanomics literature downplays excessive monetary savings, but the website homepage, www.vespanomics.com, does mention “saving a boatload of money on gas.” The common wisdom says buying a scooter is a sound investment. But is it true?

While a rider does save money in gas purchases due to improved fuel efficiency, the savings would take multiple years to pay for the initial cost of the scooter itself. For those trading a car for a scooter, the fuel savings is significant. For those buying a scooter as a supplemental form of transport, the argument is more problematic. Let’s take a look at our numbers.

During approximately three months of riding, we tallied 802 commuter miles. To power those miles we burned 13.524 gallons of premium fuel, at an average price of $4.41. Our total fuel costs were $59.66. Not too shabby, and had I driven those 802 miles in my 24MPG 1998 Chevy Cavalier (the life of a journalist is glamorous), I would have burned 33.4 gallons. Subtracting 20 cents/gallon, to make up for the premium gas difference, we’d have spent $140.68. That makes for a savings of $81.02.

2008 Vespa GTS 250
Scooting around town was fun and fuel efficient, but does a rider "save" alot of money?
Being generous in our rounding (because our fuel receipts didn’t quite tally three full months) we saved about $30/month - $360/year if we could ride year-round. At 10 miles round trip, our commute is tame compared to most. Suppose we doubled our miles travelled, and saved $60 a month. That would make $720 a year. Excellent, but we’d have to ride that GTS 250 eight years to pay off the $5,999 MSRP!

Granted, at 59.8 MPG our Vespa isn’t as fuel efficient as other smaller-displacement scooters – some of which claim near triple-digit efficiency (although we gladly traded high MPG for the improved performance of the larger 250 engine). Comparing a higher MPG scooter to, say, a Hummer (the whipping boy of MPG rants) and the savings swell. It should be noted the value of a scooter’s efficiency rises with the price of gasoline. Conversely, our summer savings would be slashed in half this winter, with the welcome return of cheap $2/gal fuel. 

Based off estimated scooter MPG figures and $4/gallon gas, the following popular scooters per-mile fuel costs are compared against the current 27.5 MPG, 14.5¢ / mile CAFE standard car. (To compute your own particular savings, check out this free calculator).  

  MSRP  MPG  Fuel Cost Savings
Vespa GTS 250  $5999 60  6.7¢ / mile 7.9¢ / mile
Vespa S50 $3199 72 5.6¢ / mile 8.9¢ / mile
Yamaha Vino 125  $2899 85  4.7¢ / mile 9.8¢ / mile
Suzuki Burgman 400  $6199 54 7.4¢ / mile 7.1¢ / mile

Although the monetary benefits of a scooter don’t live up to the enthusiastic expectations of some consumers, there are benefits beyond the bottom line budget. We loved the psychological boost of filling up for under $10 as gas prices soared to more than $4.50/gallon this summer. Also, as individuals we have little power over things like gas prices, but riding a scooter is a tangible way to feel individual relief at the pump – whether the long term numbers justify it or not. Yet fuel prices aren’t the only thing that will bite into a rider’s wallet.

Cost of Ownership

The 250 delivers more palatable open-road performance for scooter lovers  opening the riding options to anything with blacktop.
Insurance costs for scooters are low.
Insurance costs for scooters are minimal, but still are an expense. When we looked for quotes on our Vespa, the monthly rates were less than $15. Similar quotes came in for popular rides like the Burgman 400 maxi-scooter and Ninja 250R sportbike. The super-fuel efficient 50cc Zuma, one of a handful of street-legal 2-strokes in sold in the US, was less than $10/month.

Other operating costs include regular maintenance service. Some enterprising owners will wrench on their own ride but most will go to the local dealership. Our local Vespa dealer charges $45 for an oil change, $115 for service without valve adjustment, $185 for full service, along with charges of $35 for rear tire change and $25 for front.

Speaking of which, owners will have to periodically replace tires, running upwards of $100 for a set. On top of it all, there is safety gear to purchase. Assuming a rider opts for the minimum of an open-face helmet, jacket and gloves – it easily crosses over the $100 mark. Those extra charges bite into fuel savings.

Scooter as Viable Transportation

The majority of riders can only source scooters as supplemental transportation, so cost of ownership is in addition to those same costs for keeping a car/truck. For many, scooters are flat out impractical. Got kids? Try picking up your infant from daycare on the Vespa. Before you could bungee the car seat down you’d be taking state-mandated parenting classes with Britney Spears. Errands like grocery shopping are limited too. While the convenience of underseat storage works for the lone gallon of milk or six-pack, it can’t resupply a week’s rations for a family of four.

SINKS and DINKS are prime scooter candidates (Single/Dual Income No Kids if you aren’t hip to the lingo). For college students, or young urbanites, a cheap small-displacement scooter makes perfect sense. Still, most scooter-only households are able to do so because they live in metropolitan areas where mass transit acts is a viable supplement – on those rainy days in particular.

All this, of course, doesn’t take into consideration the real risks associated with riding. Though they are cute and seem tame enough, scooters are dangerous too. Riding down the road at 30-plus mph can be lethal and debilitating. There are no airbags. No seatbelts. Just the rider perched on top of, many times, an underpowered two-wheeler, all while literal tons of rolling steel breeze by. Drivers making the switch should go in with eyes wide open to the risks.

Real Benefits of Vespanomics

2008 Vespa GTS 250
Higher MPG rates equate to less gas guzzled. Less gas guzzled means lowered demand. Lowered demand triggers a drop in gas prices. It's Vespanomics!
Alright, enough raining on the scooter parade. We are, after all, big fans. Let’s talk about the real benefits of scooter ridership: reducing oil consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The stated goal of Vespanomics is to switch 10% of America’s total mileage to scooters. Vespa claims the result would be 14 million less gallons of fuel used and a 324 million-lb reduction in CO2 emissions every day.

How much planet did we save this summer? The EPA figures 19.4 lbs of CO2 are released for every gallon of gasoline burned. We saved 19.9 gallons, so 386 lbs of CO2 was spared. Not earth-shattering, by any measure, but 1544 lbs a year. If a couple million drivers follow suit, the potential environmental benefits are significant. And in case you think green concerns aren’t relevant, a 2007 Vespa survey conducted by the International Communications Research firm found that 70% of Americans are concerned about global warming.

As far as reducing oil consumption goes, less demand = lower prices. Granted, the wild fluctuations of 2008 oil prices have been influenced, in part, by commodities speculation and the world-wide economic downturn (barrel oil prices have plummeted from a July high of $147 to the current rate of $43). Oil, however, still follows the law of supply and demand. By riding our Vespa this summer, we consumed 20 less gallons of fuel. Start multiplying the riders and, again, the cumulative effect is significant.

A third big-picture benefit of Vespanomics is that scooters relieve traffic congestion. Idling engines in traffic gridlock waste efficiency and dump more CO2 into the atmoshpere. On its website Vespa touts a traffic model for midtown Manhattan in which 20% of the vehicles were scooters. The claimed benefits would be dramatic: Less congestion would decrease transportation delays of 4.6 million hours a year (100 hours per person), CO2 emissions would drop by 52 million lbs and more than 2.5 million gallons of fuel would be saved. Bottom line savings to NYC would be a claimed $122 million in fuel and productivity.


2008 Vespa GTS 250
Riding isn't all about saving money. It's plain fun too!
Making a scooter purchase from a strict financial point of view depends entirely on the rider’s individual circumstances. How much will they ride it? What vehicle is the scooter replacing? Is it a practical year-round/daily option? For some the investment will pay dividends. For others, it may never even pay for itself.

As a progressive choice in alternative transportation, scooters make a whole lot of sense. The benefit to American cities is worthwhile and municipalities should take steps to encourage scooter use. Governments could also stir sales with tax credits, as California is already doing for ZEV (Zero Emission Vehicle) scooters like the electric-powered Vectrix.

As a marketing device to attract new owners, Vespanomics is a definite success. Campaigns like the “Go Green Vespa Video Challenge,” saw eager Vespanomics disciples submit videos promoting their own take on the scooter lifestyle. Vespa's biggest boost may have been perfect timing as Americans experienced the highest gas prices on record. The bottom line is where the motorcycle industry as a whole is reporting 2008 losses, scooter sales are booming.

So, while cheap gas is back for the short term, scooters are here to stay.

Agree or disagree with our author? Share your own take on Vespanomics in the comment section below.
Other Scooter Feature Articles
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Gogoro Smartscooter First Look
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2015 Vespa GTS 300 Range First Look
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Quadro4 Debuts: Four-Wheeled Tilting Scooter
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2015 Piaggio BV350 i.e. First Look
Piaggio's 2015 BV350 i.e. scooter returns with new coloways and a redesigned seat for the coming model year.
2015 Yamaha Zuma   Vino Classic First Looks
Yamaha brings back its popular Zuma scooter for 2015, with 50F, 50FX and 125 models along with the retro-styled Vino Classic.
Scooter Emissions and ZEV Future
2009 Vectrix Vx-1
The big caveat to increased scooter usage in a metropolitan area is that scoots still produce non-CO2 emissions. Byproducts of internal combustion, hydrocarbons and nitrogen oxides are responsible for smog and poor air quality. The latest wave of EPA emissions has cleaned up motorcycles, however, bringing sub-250cc bikes (consequently most scooters) under regulation.

Gone are the days of acrid 2-stroke smoke bellowing out of most scooter models. Now in the US even the majority of modern 50cc scoots utilize four-stroke engines. (The notorious pollution of two-strokes actually led some cities in Asia to curtail the use of motorcycles – where two-wheel transport is the rule rather than the exception.)

The potential development of zero-emission vehicles (ZEV), like electric-powered scooters, would improve hydrocarbon/CO2 emissions in cities. Zero emission vehicles do generate indirect CO2 emissions if the energy is created by fossil-fuel powerplants – although electric powertrains are much more energy efficient than internal combustion. There are already many electric-powered designs in production, perhaps the most well-known being the Vectrix (above).

A recent trip to Cologne, Germany for the INTERMOT Show further opened our eyes to the potential of electric scooters, as we met a host of start-ups looking for a foothold as the electric scooter of choice. We even learned of one ambitious concept that would have electric scooters and cars play an active part in the energy grid - charging batteries during off-peak hours but contributing back to the grid when power is most needed.

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Bikerrandy -Vespanomics  June 14, 2009 06:51 PM
Buying a Vespa scooter price wise is like buying a Harley Davidson motorcycle. If you want to pay top dollar for your transportation(in relation to other brand prices), then by all means get a Vespa or Harley. If you actually want to save some money, buy an alternative brand with as good of a motor lifespan(100,000 mi.). Not all other scooter brands are well made, but some are. BTW, Piaggio makes the Aprilia and Vespa scooters too and they all have similar quality drive trains. There are also Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha scooters of good quality available. I do grocery shopping for the 2 of us on the 250 or 500. I do all our scooter required maintenance(not much), so we really are saving money compared to our car and truck costs. Our scooters get from 50-70 mpg on regular gas depending which and how they are used. Our 500 scooter is capable of traveling 2up/loaded @ 80 mph all day if needed. If you don't plan to ride your scooter a lot, then it's motor longevity isn't that important, really.
videot9 -Free Parking!  April 26, 2009 11:25 AM
I'm a little late getting on this, I found it on a search. If anyone's still reading... One major point left out of both the article and comments is parking. In San Francisco I was paying $250 a month for the privilege of parking my car 3 blocks from my apartment (it was either that or drive around in circles for 30 minutes). Parking downtown at work can run $20 a day. I now park in a spot that's too small for a car right in front of my front door with 2 other bikes. I'm not alone, there are 11 other scooter/motorcycles parked on my block alone. My Vespa 250 has opened up the city for me again (at 52). I can walk out the front door and be anywhere in town in under 10 minutes and fortunately SF has seen the benefits of scooters, too. There are designated motorcycle parking spaces all over downtown for almost nothing (for those who live dangerously between cars is free).
Vespas Rock! -Vespanomics makes great sense  April 12, 2009 11:38 PM
"Piaggio has the No. 1 marketshare with its overall portfolio and had 27.7 percent marketshare of the U.S. scooter market — its scooter sales grew 61 percent in 2008 over the previous year." - Dealernews Wee Willy only has 1.5% of a brain.
ejot -I love vintage Taiwanese scoots  April 8, 2009 11:29 PM
Vintage Taiwanese scoots represent the classic scooter image and lifestyle. They are nifty.
Wee Willy -Vespanomics my behind!  April 8, 2009 07:52 AM
Why anyone would buy a Vespa is beyond me. There numerous better high quality scooters available from Taiwan. Parts accessability, service, and economy bets Vespa hands-down. In fact, maybe that's why Vespa fights for it's 1.5% of the US scooter market! Duh?
Dru -It's not about the MPG though (it never was)  April 8, 2009 06:55 AM
The problem is that it's not about the miles. I recently tackled this question myself on my blog, and I built a metric that makes more sense: Cost Per Mile. Deciding upon the practicality of a scooter or motorcycle really is predicated on more than just miles per gallon. It is the cost of tires, regular maintenance, purchase price, associated gear (helmets, jackets, boots, gloves) all put together and spread out across the miles ridden. http://www.twowheeljunction.com/blogs/dru/blog/the_cost_equation_-_metrics.html I concluded the same thing. A scooter or motorcycle is not a practical choice in addition to a car, but is as a replacement with some exceptions. The short version really boils down to you have to offload at least half of your annual milage from you low MPG / High Maintenance vehicle to justify the costs of the scooter.
bgk -oxygen  April 7, 2009 05:00 PM
Jim, CO2 weighs more than CH(x), where x = between 2 and 3. The added O2 from air is where the additional mass comes from.
Jim - DucPilot -CO2 emissions  December 24, 2008 08:02 PM
I agree with almost everything in this article except the CO2 emissions. Does the EPA really say that one gallon of gasoline generates 19.4 pounds of CO2? If I remember correctly, one gallon of gasoline weighs about 7 pounds. Are we to believe that the combustion of 7 pounds of gasoline generates 19.4 pounds of CO2 plus CO, H2O, NOx, unburned hydrocarbons, plus energy? Physics says matter cannot be created or destroyed, nuclear detonations excepted. Somebody needs to do a sanity check on these numbers.
DC -Other Rides Have Benefits  December 16, 2008 11:43 AM
Great article that presents the benefits of alternate transportation as well as the negatives. I love riding my Honda Reflex as my main transportation. However it should be noted that a mid to small displacement motorcycle can be equal or more economical than a scooter.
walter dawydiak -Vespanomics in San Francisco  December 15, 2008 06:21 AM
another benifit or two or three 1) A Vespa ET4 that you purchased new for $4500 in 2001, would sell used today for $2500 2) Driving a Vespa speaks of history, dignity and style. Try showing up on 1st date or business meeting on anything less than a Vespa and see what happens. 3) Highest milage Vespa I have seen had 126000 miles and which is not something I think would be possible on a platic body scooter?
Anthony Jr. -DN-01  December 12, 2008 01:25 PM
As a Marketing Director at a huge Honda powersports dealership, I'm interested in seeing how the forthcoming DN-01 works out. Though I think it's overpriced, it does put forth a sophisticated first step in truly trying to find the best qualities of scooters (fuel efficiency, ease of operation, practicality, etc) with the best qualities of cruisers (high style, good power, higher resale, etc). It will be interesting to see how the market judges.
Steve -Vehicle Depreciation  December 12, 2008 11:18 AM
One factor missed in this otherwise well done analysis is vehicle depreciation costs. Or put into non-accountant language, how much does the scooter cost versus how far will it travel? I'm used to getting 200k miles from my cars and my last car cost just short of $30k, so I spend $0.15 of my cars purchase price with every mile I ride. My primary bike is an 01 VFR which I bought new for around $10k with now just more than 50,000 miles and I expect it to last around 100,000 miles, so it should cost me around $0.10 per mile by the time I put it out to pasture. Being a VFR snob I'll wager the average bike never does more than 50k miles before being scrapped for one reason or another (BMW's, goldwings, and some Harleys noted exceptions) but if we use 50k miles as an average life and $10k as an average price then the cost per mile goes up to $0.20 per mile, more than my car! So we need an estimate of how many miles a scooter can be expected to travel to finish this analysis. Does a $5k scooter manage 25k miles in a lifetime? That would put it on a par with the average motorcycle. If the scooter can make it 50k miles before landing on the scrap heap then the scooter will be cheaper than the car in cost per mile. Anyone have data or educated guesses about average scooter life?
vato_loco_frisco -Scooter cents & sense  December 12, 2008 10:04 AM
Although riding a $4500 Aprilia SportCity 250 might not make such great economic sense after one factors in the costs of servicing, tires, proper gear, etc., it does make mental health sense. When I arrive at work astride my SC250, I feel refreshed & alert. In contrast, on the few days that I drive my cage, I'm stressed out from stop-and-go traffic and trying to find a parking spot. But since I do most of my own wrenching, servicing costs will be minimal. (After 3600 miles the Aprilia has been 100% reliable). In summary? Vespanomics -- or should that be scooternomics? -- makes total sense/cents.
walter dawydiak -Scooting thru Vespanomics in a city  December 12, 2008 06:52 AM
What Bart does not appear to sufficiently discuss: 1) If one rides 803 miles on a Vespa he would have to add at least 10% more miles for that same drive in a car whilst a Vespa reduces miles driven and gas wasted by a car circling for a parking spot etc... 2) One also saves gas as a Vespa easily and safely maneuvers THROUGH OR AROUND traffic jams and stop light traffic that require a car to sit there and idle... burning more gas. 3) Time savings is also realized by the above mentioned which on average for city is 30-40 minutes day used which translates into a windfall of 10hrs - 20hrs per month in time savings
Tim -Vespanomics Gone Wrong  December 11, 2008 09:35 AM
Vespas may be trendy and "cute", but I agree that you can buy comparable if not better scooters for much less!