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Published: Friday, 5/16/2008

Gas prices speed motor scooter sales

BY JON CHAVEZ
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Millbury's Donna Young looks at motor scooters at a motorcycle dealership in Maumee. Millbury's Donna Young looks at motor scooters at a motorcycle dealership in Maumee.
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When he opened his Vespa of Toledo motor scooter dealership a year ago, Mike Kookoothe sold 35 of the two-wheeled vehicles during the summer and considered that a roaring success.

Last month, he sold more than 35 and so far this month he's getting 200 calls a day from people wanting to know about Vespas.

People want to know how much the scooter costs and what is its gas mileage, said Mr. Kookoothe's daughter, Amanda, a salesman at his Sylvania dealership.

Meanwhile, Honda East Yamaha Suzuki Kawasaki in Maumee fields similar phone calls daily, sales manager Gabe Miller said.

Recent spikes in gas prices to nearly $4 a gallon have driven many car and truck owners to consider buying gas-miserly motor scooters or motorcycles as a way to save fuel costs on daily driving.

Sales of name-brand scooters rose 24 per cent in the first quarter this year over the same period last year, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council trade group.

At Honda East, sales of scooters for the first four months are up nearly 20 percent over the same period a year ago.

"We have a lot of recreational riders, so for some people gas prices are not a concern," Mr. Miller said. "But I would say probably 40 to 50 percent of the people coming in the door now are mentioning fuel prices."

Ranging in power from small 50cc engines like the popular Vespa LX to powerful 650cc scooters like Suzuki Burgman, motor scooters cost between $1,600 and $8,000 and average about 70 miles per gallon.

"At 70 miles to the gallon, it'll cost you $12 bucks to fill your tank for the month with a 3-gallon tank," Amanda Kookoothe said.

The Vespa dealership has been filled with customers in the past week as gas prices soared, she said.

However, the interest in saving on gas bills isn't just with scooters.

Tim Sherman, owner of Signature Harley-Davidson in Perrysburg, said his dealership has had a spike in customer traffic, which ordinarily might have been expected to be slow with the stalled economy.

"Gas mileage is a very hot topic in motorcycle sales right now. We seem to have the conversation daily," he said.

Smaller motorcycles featuring 500cc engines, like the Harley Sportster, get nearly 60 miles a gallon and cost about $7,000, Mr. Sherman said. The dealer has posted a sign on his lot asking customers if they'd like to get 59 miles to the gallon.

"I think a lot of people are just frustrated right now," Mr. Sherman said. "They don't like the fact that prices are going up and they don't have any control over them."

Operating costs are cheaper, Mr. Sherman said.

Area insurance agents said annual premiums for a scooter run between $100 and $200; for a motorcycle, $300 to $400.

Ohio law requires that operators of scooters or motorcycles using city or state roads have a motorcycle operator's license.

Contact Jon Chavez at: jchavez@theblade.com or 419-724-6128.



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