There's a correlation between the increase in the price of gas and the sales of scooters. Scooter sales are up more than 24-percent in 2008, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council.
Bob Hedstrom, the owner and general manager of Scooterville in Minneapolis, can't believe how brisk sales have been. Seven years ago he sold about 60 scooters a season. Now he sells 60 scooters a week. Gas mileage is the attraction.
"The smaller engine sizes will approach 100 miles per gallon or more," he says.
Every $.50 per gallon increase in the price of gas drives more customers into his store, Hedstrom says. It started a few years ago after Hurricane Katrina hiked the price of gas past $3.00 a gallon. Now that gas has hit $4.00 a gallon, it's a frenzy. A scooter's gas mileage varies depending on the size of the engine, Hedstrom says.
"You get into the larger engine sizes of scooters that you can take on the freeway and really go anywhere that's going to drop down into roughly the 50 miles per gallon range," he says.
A woman who gave her name as Emily says that kind of mileage led her to buy a scooter.
"It really helps because I get like 80 miles to the gallon so that works out really well," Emily, a sports management major at the University of Minnesota, says.
She bought a smaller scooter, one with a 50cc engine called the Kimco Agility scooter, about three months ago and says it's the perfect vehicle for driving around campus.
"A lot of my friend's parents are wanting to get some for their kids because it's a nice money-saver, gas-saver," she says. "It's a hot, hot thing for them."
But scooters are not just for tooling around campus and taking short local trips. Mike Garner, a 61-year-old postal worker from Tennessee, rode into Scooterville recently to get a tune-up after driving 900 miles from Memphis to see family. Garner's time in Italy inspired him to buy a Vespa two years ago.
"I thought it would be cool, I guess, to have one in the U.S. I live again in Memphis so we have a longer period where it's actually practical to ride them during the year although we do get some weather and a lot of rain. It's worked out really well. Most days I can ride the thing to work, except in the dead of winter."
Vespas and other classic looking scooters have never been more popular in the U.S., according to Scooterville's Bob Hedstrom, pointing to a bike in his shop.
"This is our top selling model. It is the Genuine Scooter Company Buddy 125. And this is a scooter...that's capable of going in about the 60 miles per hour range and it's going to probably average out to 85 to 90 miles per gallon."
The Buddy sells for about $2,500 and Hedstrom is completely sold out for now.
"This scooter phenomenon is just not happening here. It is happening all over the country. So everybody, in all the major markets, all of the scooter dealers are selling a lot of scooters. That puts pressure on the scooter distributors to get product in. Nobody can really ever forecast the amount of growth we've seen in scooters this year," he says.
It's not just good gas mileage that's driving scooter sales. There's the sense of freedom while driving and it's also a social activity. Scooters have also won parity win bicycles, Hestrom says.
"In Minneapolis and St. Paul those moped scooters can also be parked at bicycle racks. So that is a huge advantage to people who live downtown because they don't have to pay for parking. That alone can pay for the cost of a scooter in pretty short order.
Smaller scooters, suitable for driving on city streets start at around $1,500. The bigger scooters that can get up to 80-miles per hour and are powerful enough to ride on the freeways are priced close to $8,000.