Scooter sales zoom higher in Augusta

Neither style nor speed drew Wes Childers into his silver two-wheeler.

It was gas mileage.

"You can't beat the mileage on scooters," the North Augusta resident said. "For me, I'm trying to do anything I can to save on gas."

Mr. Childers bought his Yamaha Vino scooter more than a year ago and has managed to get 60 to 80 miles per gallon when driving to downtown Augusta or to the grocery store. He said he plans to use it more as gas prices rise.

Mr. Childers represents a growing number of consumers who are buying scooters to save on gas costs. Interest in and sales of mopeds have increased rapidly in the past few months, local and national retailers say.

The significant increase in Georgia scooter sales started last year, said Mike Mount, a spokesman for the Motorcycle Industry Council. Georgia ranked 18th in the nation for scooter sales in 2007. Scooter sales in Georgia have increased 19 percent in the past five years and will climb exponentially this year, Mr. Mount said.

Motorists are opting for scooters because they are "fun and efficient" to drive, said Schwinn Motor Sports vice president George Simone.

"I don't think it's just a trend," Mr. Simone said. "They get exceptionally good gas mileage, you can go in and out of traffic. I think it's becoming more accepted to drive them."

Schwinn won't have any scooters available for two weeks, Mr. Simone said. The company has sold 3,000 scooters so far this year, double the amount of last year.

Local scooter dealer Tomberlin Outdoors also has seen increased demand for scooters, said Jesse Oscarson, the general manager of the store. Scooter sales have increased 100 percent since last year at the Washington Road location, Mr. Oscarson said. Scooters range from about $2,000 to as much $8,000, he said. Many Tomberlin customers are searching for scooters with larger engines, he said.

"Most people want the larger ones, because they can go about 50 miles per hour," Mr. Oscarson said. Smaller engines, similar to the one Mr. Childers drives, can get as much as 80 mpg, Mr. Simone said. Scooters with larger engines, 150 CCs, get about 60 mpg.

Though Mr. Childers' Vino doesn't move too fast, he said the benefits of driving his scooter outweigh the setbacks.

"The scooter is not a interstate type of vehicle, but when I'm driving around North Augusta it's just smarter to drive," he said.

Reach Stephanie Toone at (706) 823-3215 or stephanie.toone@augustachronicle.com.

SCOOTER FACTS

- A motor scooter is an on-highway motorcycle, generally with a small displacement engine, full bodywork and a step through design.

- Domestic sales of midsized scooters increased 64.9 percent in April compared with April 2007. Dealers sold 10,109 more midsized scooters than in April 2007.

- Georgia ranked 18th in the nation for scooter sales in 2007. Sales in Georgia have increased 19 percent in the past five years.

Sources: Motorcycle Industry Council, Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association