Quite the Sales Plug
Dealer Network for N.E.-Made Electric Scooter Expands Tenfold as Gas Prices Rise
By Elizabeth Campbell, Boston Globe Correspondent
A New England company that makes electric scooters is getting a boost from the high price of gasoline. Vectrix Corp., which is based in Middletown, R.I., and has an engineering plant in New Bedford, said its dealership total nationwide has increased from 5 to 50 in the past 100 days.
Since last year, Vectrix has shipped just 1,000 of the scooters, but that number could soon rise dramatically, given consumers’ increased interest in alternatives to gas-powered vehicles.
The company said it costs about 1 cent a mile to run the zero-emission Vectrix – and that it gets the equivalent of 357 miles per gallon. The scooter can accelerate from zero to 50 miles per hour in 6.8 seconds, has a top speed of 62 miles per hour, according to the company, and can travel 30 to 55 miles on a single battery charge. Recharging takes two to three hours if it’s completely depleted.
“You can plug [the Vectrix] into any outlet,” said company spokeswoman Colleen Quinn.
One of the scooter’s biggest selling points may be where it can go – highways. The Vectrix complies with US and European government safety and environmental regulations for highway use, said Rob Brayfield, president of the Vehicle Certification Agency, a British government agency.
Cary Littell, one of the distributors who signed up recently, said he is selling more Vectrix scooters than he can keep on the floor at his Marin Vectrix/BMW dealership in San Rafael, Calif. In the past five weeks, Littell said, he has placed four orders to meet customer demand, with six to nine scooters in each order.
Its highway certification makes it more practical as a commuter vehicle than some other scooters, Littell said.
“You can’t very efficiently get from one [town] to the next without going on the freeway,” he said. “If a scooter can’t go on the freeway, I don’t see its real use.”
Of course, finding a place to recharge away from home could be a problem, especially given the scooter’s limited travel range. Quinn said the company is “working with cities” to designate public places where the scooters could be recharged.
Overall, the popularity of scooters – almost all gas-powered, such as the Italian-made Vespa – is booming. Last year, 131,000 scooters were sold in the United States, according to the Motorcycle Industry Council, a trade group that estimates sales are up 66 percent so far this year.
The 2007 model Vectrix, which is still available, costs $8,795, and the 2008 version is priced at $9,395 because of minor changes. The scooters are sold in 23 states but are not yet available in Massachusetts. The company hopes to soon have dealerships in the Boston area. For now, the closest one is in Newport, R.I.
Ray Alexander, manager of the Newport flagship store, touts the scooter’s simplicity.
“There’s no belts or hoses or chains, no oil to change, no spark plugs,” he said. It’s “basically a software-driven vehicle with an electric motor on the back wheel,” he said.
Maintenance involves hooking the scooter to a laptop computer to conduct a diagnostic check and look for software upgrades, Alexander said.
There are also “green” incentives for electric scooter buyers. For instance, California’s Air Resources Board offers a $1,500 rebate to residents who purchase the zero-emission vehicle, said John Swanton, an air pollution specialist on the board’s staff. Some other states offer alternative fuel rebates or tax credits, Swanton said. Vectrix said it is lobbying the Massachusetts Legislature to enact a rebate similar to California’s.
There is no doubt that the electric vehicle industry is accelerating, said Phil Gott, director of automotive consulting at Global Insight, a Waltham forecasting firm.
“You can make electricity from anything,” Gott said. “You can charge the batteries, and you can run down the road.”
Elizabeth Campbell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
July 25, 2008
Quite the Sales Plug