You Can Drive My Vespa – Let’s face it; there are times when you just have to drive somewhere–but you don’t have to drive a gas-guzzler–or a car at all. Consider a scooter or motorcycle, or if you do need a car, make it a hybrid.
It’s a hot market for scooters, according to Jeremy Spann, manager of Vespa Madison, which has seen sales increase significantly this year. “People appreciate the excellent gas mileage, ease of use and parking, and minimal maintenance,” he says. “‘Greenies’ love them because they use less fuel and pollute less.”
All Vespa Madison scooters have four-stroke engines, which have lower emissions than older, two-stroke engines. “Some have eighty percent lower emissions than cars,” Spann says.
Scooters average 60 miles per gallon (mpg) of gas, depending on engine size–some small ones can achieve 100 mpg. Basic mopeds with 50 cubic-centimeter (cc) engines start at $1,800; high-end Vespas cost up to $7,000. A 50 cc scooter is fine for in-town riding, Spann notes. For longer commutes or roads with higher speed limits you’d want a larger, faster machine to avoid impeding traffic.
The Engelhart Center, too, has seen scooter sales skyrocket as fuel prices rise. Small motorcycles–400 cc engines and under–are hot too, indicates Marty Hickey, sales manager. “In the past mostly college students bought scooters; now families are buying them,” he says.
Hickey’s also seeing consumers dust off and refurbish old motorcycles. “People come in for service all the time with bikes that haven’t run in ten years, but sometimes repairs cost more than the bike is worth,” he cautions. “We have no problem giving people a quick evaluation and recommending whether it’s worth spending money on.”
When it comes to cars, hybrids continue to increase in popularity. At Smart Toyota, nearly one in four cars sold is a hybrid, according to Allen Foster, general manager. “Hybrids accounted for 12 percent of sales last year, and this year they’re at 23 percent,” he says.
Smart offers three hybrid models, with the Prius the most popular. It averages 55 mpg, Foster notes.
Plug-in hybrids are likely to be available commercially soon, predicts Bill Robbins, spokesperson for Hybridfest, which showcased the cars during its two days at the Alliant Energy Center in July. “Some people convert their own hybrids to plug-ins, and a few companies will retrofit the cars, mostly for commercial fleets,” he says.
The converted cars plug into standard outlets to charge their batteries, and can then run solely on electricity for up to 30 miles without using their gasoline engines. “With what you pay for electricity, it’s about the equivalent of a dollar per gallon of gas,” explains Robbins. “And a new study shows it produces less greenhouse gases per mile than burning gas.”
At Hybridfest, Wisconsin Public Power, Inc. (WPPI), displayed one of its plug-in Prius hybrids, and converted another hybrid to a plug-in at the festival. “The plug-ins achieve over 100 mpg, and as an electrical power company, WPPI appreciates the fact that most will be plugged in at night, when they don’t strain the power grid,” Robbins says.
Toyota and General Motors (GM) are racing to introduce their plug-in hybrids, he adds, calling it a huge step for the environment. “We talk about hydrogen fuel-cell technology, but that’s way in the future. This is available now.”
No matter what model of car you drive, you can improve your gas mileage, says Bill Robbins, Hybridfest spokesperson.
- Keep your tires fully inflated.
- Drive slowly – it’s safer and uses less gas.
- Drive like you have no brakes – think ahead, slow down, and try to get through stoplights without braking.
- At slow speeds, open your windows for cooling; at high speeds use air conditioning – the drag of open windows uses more energy.