There is no doubt in my mind that Scooter prices the world over, with the possible exception of North America, are being very
heavily controlled by dealer network cartels, manufacturer bullying of independent dealers, rationing, artificial price
hiking and control freakery by the world's major scooter producers, with of course the notable exception of most Chinese
The result is that we have the absurd situation where new "premium" scooters like the Vespa 250's and
other Piaggio scoots (eg MP3 and Xevo's) at the top of their ranges are now being sold in Europe at prices approaching that
of a one year old whole small car, which in case you hadn't noticed, has four wheels, a state of the art engine, a large
boot, substantial amounts of aluminium and steel, sophisticated suspension, four seats, a roof and six expensive glass
windows included in the price, let alone air conditioning, electric windows a sub frame, chassis, four disc brakes, a radio
and a sun roof as standard. Contrast that with a scooter with a cheap as chips frame, a tiny engine, two wheels and a slab
seat, a handle bar and a cheap plastic screen, all sold for sky high prices. On this basis you would expect the average
scooter, even the quality ones, to be built at a cost that is at almost a quarter of the average small car, and in some cases
a sixth or less compared with budget four wheeled vehicles.
Economies of scale is not an argument here, since in
most Euro countries like Italy and spain, scooters sell in hundreds of thousands, and they are making a whacking great profit
through no other reason than price control.
In the Uk, which has a relatively small market, we are seeing a
typical 250-400cc Scoot being flogged for a premium £4000-6000. In US money that is up to a whopping and scandalous $8000.
How do they get away with it? Simple. From the biggest manufacturer (Piaggio) to even Taiwanese imports (SYM) a draconian and
fascist control is exerted on any person who applies for the deep privilege of being a badged dealership.
Scooter market has reached a point of total absurdity, whereby so-called iconic scooters are being peddled at up to twice the
price they should be, against the equally absurd cheapo Chinese offerings which are made in sweat shops by slaves for pennies
in wages and then marketed as clones of well known makes at a price which must carry a profit of barely 50 or so dollars.
Both extremes are disturbing. In any country in Europe, surf the net for days looking for a single dealer that is selling at
less than manufacturer's recommended retail price and you will fail. The network is controlled with an iron hand. Any dealer
offering so much as 20 Euros off the RRP is soundly thrashed and ex-communicated.
From the customer point of view
buying is an excercise in feeling you are privileged to even be allowed to visit a dealership, most of which are many miles
apart, and purchasing from which the customer is forever beholden to that dealer for spares, excessive servicing costs,
delays, unreliability and the feeling that he is trapped in a spiral of monopoly costs. If scooters were that rare it would
be understandable. But scooter sales in southern Europe are astronomical. Yet no economies of scale are being passed to the
consumer. The European Scooter Industry is about as remote from the customer as it possibly could be, much as the car
industry was until someone in the UK around 1998 woke up to the fact the UK customers were paying about 30% more for the same
car than everyone else in the world.
The US has always had a much more consumer oriented vehicle industry and it
is not surprising that, as with motorcycles in general, prices in the US are substantially lower than the whole of Europe.
The reason? Because US dealers are more competitive, serve the customer better, and have successfully escaped from the
bondage which manufacturers and importers imposed on them.
Europe really needs to wake up to the scandal of
grossly excessive Scooter pricing. I would urge all Euro customers to vote with their feet. The best example of price hiking
must be the Vespa GTV 250 cc "retro" scoot, which for the placing of the headlight on the front mudguard instead of the bars,
and a stitched leather seat, you pay a whopping £4000 (yes that's around $8000 for a tiny scoot, charming though it is) which
will lose a quarter of its value the second you ride it out of the dealer showroom. That's a huge premium to pay for an
"icon", however cute.
The problem is Europeans are terminally shy when it comes to challenging a dealer price. We
collapse under the weight of the glossy brochure and geographical rarity of a dealer, knowing we have 100 miles to travel to
another "local dealer". So we cave in and cough up.
We have a lot to learn from the price-savvy Americans.