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Got Jesse

October 13, 2017
Red LX 150

Image: KIRO TV

In the time I’ve been writing this here blog, nothing leaves me shaking my head and saying “WTF” more than the conduct of so many motorcycle/scooter dealers. Following the jump is a story that just blows me away.

Forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but scholars in the latter half of this century and well into the next will be studying how the U.S. powersports business, like music and newspapers, is doing everything it possibly can to kill itself.

First of all, there’s this business of being closed more hours in a given week than being open. In particular, not being open at all on Sundays and Mondays (I’m told, it’s “so we—the dealer employees—can ride.” Um, do you want to ride, or do you want to sell bikes?). Then there are what used to be called “banker’s hours,” which for many MC dealers is something like 10-5 on the days they are open.

A motorcycle dealer in Bellingham (with a Triumph franchise, no less) used to be closed completely for six months of the year. A couple years ago, somebody noticed they didn’t reopen in the spring. The windows are festooned with “Clearance Sale!” and “Everything Must Go!” signs, and there appears to be merchandise inside, but buying anything is rather difficult, since the doors are locked.

But this story of a Seattle Vespa buyer who didn’t get his title and registration for six months qualifies as the biggest WTF yet.

I spent a lot of money at Big People Scooters, which also dba Vespa Seattle: I got the ET4 and the PX there, along with a full set of riding gear, accessories, and service visits. When I bought the bikes, sales were more than brisk, and Seattle’s streets teemed with Vespas.

But the dealer license lapsed in Two Thousand Eleven? SIX YEARS AGO?? Really???

The State of Washington does bear some responsibility here, for not checking in at a very high-profile business. But I simply don’t understand how such an important detail as a dealer license can just fall through the cracks like that.

Even the skeeziest used-car dealers make sure they have the i’s dotted and the t’s crossed. State regulators will come down on them like a ton of bricks if they don’t.

But then, Piaggio Group sells about as many scooters in the U.S. in a year as one new-car dealer in a major metro area. They’re so totally fixated on their tres chic Lower Manhattan store, the rest of their dealer network (which at times has included True Value hardware stores and farm implement dealers) seems left to fend for itself. Guess the idea that dealers are the face of the company doesn’t register, huh?

Calls to Big People Scooters went straight to voicemail, where a synthetic female tells you the voicemail box is full.

Before buying the ET4, I went to Big People to have a look. The salesperson helping me totally understood what was needed in the scooter market: Selling the IDEA of owning and riding a scooter. I was encouraged to sit on an ET4, and start it up. If I’d had the motorcycle endorsement at the time, I could’ve gone for a ride. I was originally planning on getting an ET2 50cc, but we spent some time discussing the endorsement; “don’t let that stop you,” he said, explaining that getting endorsed wasn’t difficult. He even said they had some scratch & dent bikes at sizable discounts from the MSRP.

These days, nobody seems inclined to provide the support for new riders that would not only sell bikes, but keep them in the fold. This as the people who rode at motorcycling’s peak in the 1970s age out of riding, or die off. I’m aware of a marketing study in which an overwhelming majority of Millenials say they have less than zero interest in motorcycles, believing them to be for old people having midlife crises.

I bought a scooter mainly to save gas. Stories like this convince me more and more that the way to accomplish that goal is to buy a used Nissan LEAF. Which I can get for much less than a new Vespa.

One Comment
  1. October 14, 2017 2:57 am

    You leave nothing to the imagination! Combine everything you laid out with a thriving used market of scooters barely ridden (I got my 2008 with 300 miles on it) and its an uphill battle to keep a dealership open.

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