What’s more, pay-to-park lots don’t work because scooters have no dash on which to place receipts. That problem could be resolved soon; by the end of the summer, Miami Beach hopes to begin using meters that allow all drivers to pay for spaces by punching in their license plate numbers, said Saul Frances, Miami Beach parking director. The city also hopes to install a PayByPhone system this fall.
Despite meter troubles, James Anderson says that parking his Vespa is still far easier than parking his car. Anderson regularly rides his to his job as director of sales and marketing at the Dream South Beach hotel. He keeps his poncho handy in case of rain.
Convenience and the fun factor explain steadily rising sales at the Miami Beach Vespa dealership, one of the first to open in the nation. Tony Cappadona, the owner and general manager of the Miami Beach location and three others, entered the business in 2001. He experienced just one rough patch for sales in 2009.
“It doesn’t make sense to own a car if you live and work in Miami Beach,” Cappadona said. “A lot of my customers have cars, buy a Vespa and end up using it 90 percent of the time.”
Many are moving from a two-car family to one-car-and-a-scooter, said Ty van Hooydonk, communications director at the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Others are students who can drive the scooters at age 16, said Cappadona. Some have driven scooters on vacation in Europe. And some are urban dwellers who plunk down the entire $4,500 at purchase.
Buyers are willing pay the $1,000 premium a Vespa costs over other brands, partly for the styling, partly for quality, Cappadona said. The Vespa has an all-steel frame, storage space and can seat two people.
Vespa popularity among Americans is a much-needed bright spot for Piaggio. Since the European debt crisis began, the Italian company has watched European sales of two-wheelers plummet by nearly 50 percent over a five-year period. Yet the company’s sales to the United States jumped 25 percent in the first quarter of 2013. At Cappadona’s stores, sales spike as much as 20 percent during the holidays, and Piaggio now controls a quarter of the U.S. marketshare.
Still, Vespa faces tough competition from less expensive options like the 2013 Honda Ruckus, said Kyle Carter, general manager at Gables Motorsports. Since 2001, scooter sales overall have skyrocketed 64 percent, according Motorcycle Industry Council figures. The Ruckus is one of Carter’s bestselling scooters; about a dozen cycles leave the lot each month.
Despite the Ruckus’ affordable price, five months ago, Anderson, the hotel marketer, traded in his Ruckus for a Vespa and prefers the Italian scooter. His girlfriend can ride on the back, which wasn’t the case with the Ruckus.
Also, there is “no better image,” he said. “It’s costlier, but it’s worth it because the Vespa is the Rolls Royce of scooters.”