China’s scooter production increased last year partly because of big demand from Europe. In the UK the title ‘Scooter Dealer of the Year’ went to Llexeter a company that deals exclusively in China models. Here ChinaMotor’s Euro correspondent Dimitri Hettinga describes the love and hate felt when you get emotional about your scooter.
The invention of the century? Well that is last century. Piaggio was well ahead of its time in 1946 and came up with the scooter; a vehicle with small wheels and enough space to carry a dog between your legs, a pussy or just somegroceries.
I've owned and ridden them the V50 Special, Primavera 125, PK 50/200 the lot. Vespa really died for me when they started with fully automatic CVT's. The charm was gone. Changing gear with the wrist. How cool was that. 2 stroke, just the smell of it, loved every inch of it. They don't make them any more like that, Not that they were a quality built. They couldfall apart when you looked at them. The sheet metal was the worst. Rust is a must so to speak. The engines were pretty much bullet proof but needed attention. I can still blind folded taking them apart and putting them back together. But for a novice this wasn't plain sailing. Fitting the exhaust on these old 2 stroke Vespa's was not for the faint of heart; Italianengineering at its best. I've had my share. And I still look back at it with a smile. Do not know what it is. Character, charisma, it just had something to drive around on an old Vespa. Beautiful!
The last one I had was stolen in front of my house in Amsterdam. When they stole it it was a piece of shit, and in desperate need of TLC. The headstock had more play than a Broadway musical. I do hope the thieves killed themselves joy riding it on the Amsterdam streets with its typical speed bumps.
Let's go back to our times. In Europe a Vespa is still the one to have. The modern one's with CVT, 4 stroke, options galore... etc. Some of the dealers we work with, also sell Vespa's. And they go on and on about them like they were 2 wheeled gold. I do not get it. Yes the quality is right but it is definitely overweight. The ride is comfortable but there is nofeel, no feedback like the old ones had. Yes they did flex, those old buggers with the typical 2 stroke torque, but in a predictable manner.
When you have read my previous article about cafe racers you can say I am a nostalgic romantic. And things from the past are always better. Not in quality but in feel. And that is something that is so much lacking in most scooters and motorcycles produced nowadays. The target group doesn't give damn probably. They just want to go from A to B or Z without a hassle. Push a button and go. And that is fair enough.
Last week I tried the new Vespa Primavera 50. As said before the quality is 200 % compared to an average Chinese lookalike Vespa. It feels solid, a million dollars. And it goes. When derestricted it probably does over 70 km/h. But is it fun? No, not for me. Boring it is. Riding a scooter or a motorcycle is cool because it is a bit dangerous. When you take that bit away, I think you would better drive a car or use the public transportation. But this is what the people want because Vespa/Piaggio is still making a lot of money doing so.
Scooters are mainstream again, with Chinese models getting in on the act. They were just that in the 50's and 60's just because it was an easy, stylish and affordable means oftransportation. Cheap & chic. Nowadays that's all gone. People in Europe drive Vespa's as a status symbol. And dress them up with all kinds of unnecessary options and accessories doubling the base price tag. Good for Vespa and its dealers but totally missing the point of the initial scooter conception. Don't get me wrong, making (a lot of) money is a good thing, but as a critical consumer and brand owner it does make me think. Do we really need all this BS? Is a bang for buck product not good enough? And do you really stand out of the crowd with skyscraper high windscreen and chrome plated crash bars all over the place? Is it a marketing ploy or a consumer need? If so, it is a pretty smart one.Harley-Davidson (and yes they also made scooters a long time ago) made a shit lot of money from their accessories lines long before Vespa did. So the idea is not very new. I always liked the idea of “less is more” and “chrome won't get you home”. But selling this idea to the public is difficult and not very smart from a financial point of view. So, yes we also sell accessories to our consumers to make an extra buck. We do try to keep it to the bare necessities; a sport exhaust for some extra ponies and some high spec shock absorbers for that extra grip in the corners.
I might come across like Don Quixote fighting windmills but I will not give up raving about the real driving experience- because that's what makes me tick...