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Roger Miyakawa was born and raised in Los Angeles, so he knows local residents will not easily give up their cars.
“Cars are a big deal here,” he said. “They’re status symbols. People love their cars. And L.A. is so spread out they need them to get around.”
Still, Miyakawa was confident enough in the demand for alternative forms of transportation that he and a partner opened a Vespa dealership downtown last November.
He’s hoping environmentally- and traffic-conscious Angelenos will trade in their second or third cars for scooters.
“L.A. should be the ideal fit for scooters,” Miyakawa said. “We get 350 days of sunshine a year. They’re so perfect for L.A. streets, if you’re just running errands, and don’t have to get on the freeway.”
For Miyakawa, the main draw of opening a Vespa dealership was the environmental aspect. The scooters get 70 miles per gallon on average, and one model that gets 100 mpg, and offer a comparatively cheap, alternative way to get around the city.
“We’re really trying to promote the whole green lifestyle, where people downtown can use the scooter to get around an urban area, more like they do in Europe,” Miyakawa said. “I think the market is going to expand immensely, especially because of the direct correlation with looking for alternative transportation and the cost of oil going up. For a family out there that wants to save money, this is one way to do it. I used to drive a Suburban, and it cost me a hundred dollars to fill up. Now it costs me seven dollars to fill up the Vespa.”
Since Vespa returned to the United States in 2000, the Los Angeles market has been supportive — ranking behind only New York and San Francisco in overall sales.
Miyakawa’s downtown dealership, which is on pace to sell 250 scooters in its first year, ranked as the top new dealership of 2009.
The main impediment to his business, Miyakawa said, is the separate driver’s license needed to ride a two-wheeled vehicle in California — even a scooter.
“If people didn’t need an M1 (motorcycle) license, we’d probably do twice as much sales,” Miyakwa said. “In most countries, and in some other states, a driver’s license is enough. We get a lot of people who are interested, but who back off once they hear they need an endorsement on their license.”
People who visit from countries where a driver’s license is enough to drive a scooter, however, are allowed to drive scooters in California, as well.
So last week, in hopes of tapping into the city’s burgeoning tourism industry, Miyakwa started a scooter rental program.
“If a couple from Italy or from Asia comes, we can rent them scooters,” he said. “It’s such a great and fun way to enjoy the weather and the sites of L.A., so much better than being in a car.”
You can find Miyakawa’s dealership at 301 S Central Avenue, Los Angeles, 90013, or call (213)620-0022.
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