Convincing Americans to ditch their SUVs for scooters seems an impossible marketing task, but what about getting consumers to augment their gas-guzzlers with a snazzy new Vespa for short trips?
That is a much more realistic goal for Vespa USA, which recently launched a Web site that positions the iconic brand as fun and functional.
The site, created by digital shop Last Exit, offers product info, reviews and tools to post and plot favorite routes and calculate fuel savings. The overall objective is to convince more Americans to consider scooters as alternative transportation.
Paolo Timoni, president and CEO of Piaggio Group Americas, admits that the domestic scooter industry "is still in its infancy" -- but growing.
So far, Americans have heard only one story about cutting carbon emissions: downsizing vehicles or switching to electric hybrids, he said. "Our story is that it is only one way to do things," said Timoni. "If you combine the usage of a car or SUV with a motor scooter -- which millions of Europeans do every day -- then you can achieve the same results."
The venue offers a "Vespa vs. Auto MPG" tool where consumers can compare the scooters' mileage to the performance of small, midsize and large cars. Users can then determine how many miles per gallon they would save by combining Vespa travel with trips in vehicles they already own.
"If you are going to Starbucks on a Saturday morning, you might want to take your scooter. On the other hand, if you have to go to the mall or take your kids to the soccer game, you want a larger car," he said. "In Europe, this situation is already a fact of life."
While Vespa, which has 340 dealers nationwide, has seen an increase in sales since gas prices in the U.S. began rising, the challenge is to convince consumers that Vespas offer serious riding options, not just trips around the neighborhood, Timoni said. To that end, the site's Google Maps-based "Community Rides" tool allows scooter owners to share, rate and comment on riding routes.
"Hopefully, over time, people will see others posting their rides and realize these are not toys and that people really do use this as a transportation vehicle," said Timoni.
The growth opportunity for the brand in America is enormous, he added. "We think that conservatively the volume of sales compared to what it was in 2008 can increase tenfold," he said. "There is a big upside potential for this market segment and we have chose to lead the development."