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$5 a tank pumps up scooter sales

Fuel-sipping vehicles soar in popularity as gas prices hit highs

PIERRE, S.D. -- Gasoline pushing $3 gallon? Why worry? Buy a motor scooter like thousands of other Americans and stretch that single gallon of gas a week or more.

''As people start driving them, they start finding more reasons to use them," said Doug Day, owner of Scooter Centrale and Vespa Hartford in Plainville, Conn. ''They're practical, easy to park, and get great gas mileage. I put $5 worth of gas into mine when it's totally empty, compared to $50 in my SUV."

As gasoline prices soar, the popularity of peppy, fuel-sipping motor scooters -- most easily get 50 miles per gallon and some of the smaller ones get up to 80 -- is soaring. Sales, estimated at 86,000 last year in the United States, have doubled from 2000, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.

''I put about 20 miles a day on mine, and I only have to fill it up twice a month," said Jessica Meuchel, 23, who uses a scooter to deliver daily newspapers in Pierre, S.D. She bought the two-wheeler this spring because it was costing her $200 a month to fuel her truck.

Even the larger scooters are more economical to drive than cars, said Day. He said sales at his shops climbed nearly 200 percent last year and are doing well this year, too.

MIC spokesman Mike Mount said the market gained momentum when upscale Italian scooter maker Piaggio reentered the US market with the legendary Vespa scooter in 2001. Motorcycle makers such as Honda and Yamaha also began offering new lines of scooters in recent years.

Small scooters, especially those made in China, South Korea, and Taiwan, sell for as little as $800.

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