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It's no gas hog

Kelly Thompson remembers getting quizzical looks when he hummed around Grand Forks on his four-year-old Vespa scooter. Not anymore. With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, local scooter sales are surging as consumers search for an alternative ...

Kelly Thompson remembers getting quizzical looks when he hummed around Grand Forks on his four-year-old Vespa scooter.

Not anymore.

With gas prices hovering near $4 a gallon, local scooter sales are surging as consumers search for an alternative mode of summer transportation.

"I used to turn heads when I drove by," Thompson, 47, said. "People would point and look. But now it's not such a novelty. I've seen a lot more people on scooters. They have really grown in popularity."

Paul Callina, sales manager of Revolutions Power Sports in Grand Forks, estimated scooter sales this year have increased 70 percent from the first five months of last year.

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"It's the best year we've ever had," Callina said. "We're getting everyone from doctors to college students coming in."

Hansen Cycle Marine in Grand Forks already has sold its entire fleet of about a dozen scooters it received last fall and is looking to add more, but the factory also is sold out.

Name-brand scooter sales rose 24 percent in the first quarter of 2008 from the same time period in 2007, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council. Meanwhile, local dealers say motorcycle sales have been slow, partially because of cold weather this spring.

Gas prices have been mentioned by dealers and owners alike as part of the reason for the increased interest in motorized scooters or Mopeds.

"People are looking for an alternative source of transportation," said Lon Kvasager, general manager of Hansen Cycle Marine. "Just let the car sit."

'It affects everyone'

Wednesday evening in Grand Forks, gas prices reached as high as $3.799 at some stations.

The average price of regular unleaded gas in Grand Forks set a record of $3.753 per gallon early Thursday morning, up from an average of $3.625 per gallon early Wednesday morning, according to a survey of gas stations by AAA. Grand Forks' average diesel price also set a record Thursday morning at $4.484 per gallon, up from the previous record of $4.467 per gallon set Tuesday and equalled Wednesday, according to the survey.

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"At $4 a gallon for gas, it affects everyone," Mayor Mike Brown said. "Plus, it's better for the environment."

Brown and his wife, Ann, bought two new Vespas in Minneapolis last month.

Ann Brown said the couple got the scooters for fun, because of the gas mileage and because they are better for the environment.

Mayor Brown is working on getting his motorcycle license so he can drive his. But his wife, who already had a motorcycle license, said she has driven hers "every other day" since she got it.

Many scooters, however, only require the operator to have a regular driver's license, adding to their appeal.

Scooters, which typically top out at about 40 mph, can get from 70 to 120 miles per gallon.

But some, like the Vespa 150 and Vespa 250 the Browns have, can go between 55 and 80 mph, but get worse gas mileage than smaller ones with smaller engines.

Depending on the price, the model and how often they are ridden, scooters can pay for themselves in fuel savings in several years.

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"There is a tremendous difference in gas mileage," said Rachel Osowski of Grand Forks.

Osowski, 21, uses her 1996 Yamaha Jog to run errands around town in the summer when she's not driving her Dodge Neon.

She says she plans to use the scooter as much as she can this summer because of high gas prices.

"You can fill it up and it goes about a week driving it all the time and it's only about two bucks to fill it up," said Justine Green, 20, of Grand Forks of her about 15-year-old Honda Aero.

Motorcycle sales slow

Local dealers said motorcycle sales have been slower than usual for this time of year, but blamed the slow start on the weather.

"They're not doing too bad," said Denny Anderson, co-owner of Andy's Harley-Davidson in Grand Forks. "We should be doing better, but we're not. I think when the weather gets better, it will take off."

Anderson said March, April, May and June usually are the Harley dealership's best sales months.

Callina of Revolutions Power Sports said motorcycle sales started to pick up about a week and a half ago.

"That's extremely late for us," he said. "Normally, April is one of our biggest months. It sure wasn't this year. When we wake up on a Saturday morning and there is snow on the ground, it's not going to help sell motorcycles."

But Kvasager of Hansen Cycle Marine said motorcycle sales have been better than last year at this time.

He said high fuel costs are a concern for some motorists, but added that most aren't purchasing motorcycles to be their primary source of transportation.

"Everyone has concerns about fuel prices," he said. "But a lot of people haven't brought that up. We have people who have always thought about a bike. Maybe it's just time to do it in their life."

Schuster covers business. Reach him at (701) 780-1107, by e-mail at rschuster@gfherald.com or view his business blog at www.areavoices.com/bizbuzz .

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