Even in Hawaii – Scooter sales soar!

Fri, Apr 29, 2005


Honolulu Star-Bulletin Business /2005/04/29/

Mo-ped sales zoom
High gas prices prompt
increased purchases of
the efficient two-wheelers
(Be careful out there)

By Mark Coleman

Mo-ped sales on Oahu appear to be gaining speed, pushed by high gasoline prices.

Though not at their peak when adjusted for inflation, steadily rising gasoline prices nevertheless appear to be motivating buyers to shop for fuel-efficient vehicle transportation. Prices around the state hit a record yesterday, with regular unleaded gasoline averaging $2.44 a gallon in Honolulu.

“Yeah, we get calls all the time because of the gas pinch,” said Bill Kato, sales manager at South Seas Cycles. “You hear the comments all the time. They’re coming in saying, ‘We want to ride a motorcycle or a scooter because of gas prices.’ When gas wasn’t that expensive, you never heard comments like that. Now you hear it all the time.”

Kato said South Seas Cycles has seen about a 20 percent increase in mo-ped sales during the first four months of this year, compared with the same period last year, though he did not provide specific numbers.

On Oahu, total mo-peds registered in 2004 were up 14.6 percent compared with the previous year, to 13,706 from 11,963.

In 2000, there were 9,105 mo-peds registered on the island.

An accounting supervisor at the city’s Motor Vehicles, Licensing and Permits Division said the 2004 total could be misleading because mo-ped registration in Hawaii is a one-time event; the low-powered two-wheelers do not have be registered every year like motorcycles or cars, so the figures might not account for mo-peds that have been “retired,” the county official said.

Still, mo-ped retailers report a heightened interest in their products, made by companies such as Kymco and SYM (Sangyang Motor Corp.) of Taiwan, Honda and Yamaha of Japan, and Aprilia and Vespa of Italy.

Advantages of the vehicles include a relatively low purchase price of perhaps $2,000 to $3,000 for a new one and much cheaper for a used one, few regulatory hassles, and, of course, enviable fuel efficiency. Mo-ped sellers say the vehicles can get up to 80, even more than 100 miles a gallon, while all it takes to drive one is a standard drivers license — no insurance needed.

Drawbacks include their low power and slow top speed — about 30 mph — and the fact that only one person is allowed per mo-ped. Also, they’re not allowed on freeways, and they’re not much fun trying to drive over the Pali Highway or other difficult terrain or in challenging weather conditions.

(Yawn… whew *blink**blink*… This story is kind of a sleeper, eh? -steve)

“They’re the perfect vehicle around the university area,” said Tom “TC” Charters, sales manager for Domenico’s Motorcycles in Kaneohe. “A four- or five-mile radius is about the perfect range. But (for people on the Windward side) most people use cars to get to work or over the Pali.”

Charters said demand for mo-peds in Kaneohe has not been great, high gas prices or not.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “Nobody’s come in here lately and said, ‘I gotta buy a mo-ped because gas prices are killing me.’ The only reason people might buy a mo-ped is for short errands, like if they’re going down to the 7-Eleven to get some soda or something. But then you’d be spending two to three grand just to save 30 cents on gas.”

In the university area, Charters said, the value of mo-peds is more clear.

“University students buy them,” he said, “because it fits in with their basic travel perimeter, they usually have financial constraints, and it’s easy to find parking.”

And for mo-ped dealers closer to the University of Hawaii in Manoa, students are among their main customers.

Glenn Koishigawa, of Glenn’s Cycle Supply in Kaimuki, said students buy mo-peds for the economy and convenience. They are cheap to buy and operate, and parking is easy, which is a blessing on campus.

Still, high gas prices are giving even students an extra push into the mo-ped market, with Jennifer Purcell of the Mo-ped Connection & Co. in Kapahulu, estimating they’ve added about 10 percent to her normal sales to students.

“We sell only used mo-peds, and compared to last year this time, we’re probably up about 10 mo-peds more, which is really good for us,” Purcell said. “Last year for the whole year we sold probably between 60 and 70. Then in August, when the kids start coming in from out of town to go to UH, that soars maybe 25 percent more, so this year compared to last, maybe about a 10 percent increase — but it is because of the gas.”

Koishigawa said his mo-ped sales during January were strong, but slowed in the past few months, perhaps because of “so many different shops opening up.”

At Cycle Imports on McCully Street, owner George Burmeister said gasoline prices are the main selling point for mo-peds.

“I’ve always had great sales on mo-peds related to gas prices,” he said. “Depending on how much riding around you do, you can go for a week without having to fill up.”

Burmeister said during the first quarter of last year, his company sold “maybe about 150″ mo-peds, whereas so far this year sales are close to 200.

“Mo-peds are the cheapest way besides a bicycle of getting around,” he said. “And most people are lazy, so mo-peds are perfect.”

He said besides college students, who comprise about 30 percent of his customers, mo-ped buyers include “senior citizens, people wanting to get to and from work, moms, dads; they have just a general appeal.”

Customers at Cycle City near Honolulu Airport also are a diverse crowd, said company sales manager Michele Opiteck, but lately sales have been higher partly because of military personnel returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. And one reason they are buying is because of the higher gasoline prices.

“That’s where we’ve seen the big surge, with a lot of military people that are coming back riding two-wheel vehicles because it’s more economical,” she said.

Salesman Alfredo Villegas said mo-ped sales at Cycle City are up about 30 percent to 40 percent this year, “absolutely” because of higher gasoline prices.

“We have more and more people coming in and checking out scooters because gas mileage on those is ridiculous,” he said.

(Sorry if you fell asleep on that one… Remember, news isn’t always exciting, unless it’s on Fox or something then the headline would have read more like “Scooters responsible for economic downfall in the South Pacific and the possible deaths of thousands”.)

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