When Canadians started buying a lot more scooters

Scooters had not been a common sight in Canada. But in 1980 sales were projected to reach 2,500 -- a considerable jump from 200 the previous year.

Bigger than a bike, smaller than a motorcycle -- and a gallon lasted for 100 miles

A new Vespa plant could open in Canada to capitalize on surging scooter sales in 1980. 1:46

Scooters had not been a common sight in Canada. But in 1980 annual sales were projected to reach more than 2,500 — a considerable jump from under 200 the previous year.

CBC reporter Paul Patterson identified where their appeal may have originated.

"Although scooters cost at least $1,000, they go farther than 100 miles on a gallon of gas," he said, in a report that aired on CBC's This Week in Ontario on Aug. 9, 1980.

Fuel economy had recently become top of mind for North American consumers. given the 1979 gas crisis.

(The 1979 film Quadrophenia, featuring scooter-riding British youth, could have had something to do with it, but Patterson didn't make that connection.)  

Niche market

Sales of Vespa scooters had seen a boost in Canada. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

Scooters were "larger than a bicycle, and smaller than a motorcycle," said Patterson, as the camera showed a moustached man riding a blue Vespa scooter. 

The Italian scooter maker was already selling its product in Canada, but competition seemed to be close behind.

"We know... they are working on a scooter, if you will, that's supposed to resemble ours," said Vespa distributor Angelo Viola.

He was talking about the Japanese manufacturer Honda, which he said was "supposed" to have something on the market by 1982.

Honda already had a smaller motorcycle on the market, and a woman in a yellow helmet was seen demonstrating a motorcycle to match.

"It costs about $800, and Canadian sales have been heavy," said Patterson.

Sales speeding up

Vespa distributor Angelo Viola was keeping an eye on competition from Honda for the Canadian scooter market. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)

Honda spokesman Jim Bates seemed optimistic about the Canadian market, citing their "attractive" fuel economy. 

After rolling up to the camera on a red Vespa with chrome accents, Patterson said the robust market meant more scooters could be on the horizon.   

Vespa was considering establishing a manufacturing plant in Oshawa, Ont.

"If sales continue at their present pace, the field behind me could hold the first North American Vespa assembly plant," he said.   

"It'll be built by 1982, and it could employ more than 100 people."

There is no evidence that such a plant was ever built.

Honda, a Japanese manufacturer, had seen success with its small motorcycles and was believed to be readying a scooter for the Canadian market as well. (This Week in Ontario/CBC Archives)