Scooter sales plummet with lower gas prices

The motor scooter market is looking for a tune-up.

Scooter sales, which along with fuel prices set a record in 2008, have fallen back to earth. In the first three months of 2009, scooter sales were off 37 percent. And dealers, who last year had trouble keeping scooters in stock, now have showrooms brimming with them.

"Frankly I wouldn't mind fuel prices picking up a bit and steering (people) toward two-wheelers," said Ty van Hooydonk, the director of product communications for the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade group.

It has been quite a comedown from last year, when an estimated 222,000 scooters were sold, a record that was up roughly 40 percent from 2007.

Last July alone, some manufacturers saw sales double as consumers facing $4-a-gallon gasoline couldn't resist scooters, including some fuel-sipping models that got more than 100 mpg.

But just as plummeting gas prices and the recession brought growth to a screeching halt, the industry now is confident that another surge in gas prices at some point will reignite sales.

Meanwhile, the scooter business is relying on a core group of customers who simply like the bikes for their fun and flexibility, regardless of where gas prices are.

The federal stimulus package, which allows sales tax deductions for people buying scooters or motorcycles, also should attract some customers.

John Redmond, the owner of Vespa Crossroads in Kansas City, said he still expected sales to be good this year, though they won't reach last year's levels. Gas prices, which were often on customers' minds last year, aren't mentioned now as a reason for buying a scooter.

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