Coming soon: Highway-legal plug-in hybrid scooter

Vespa maker Piaggio could beat Chevy Volt to U.S. highways with a plug-in hybrid version of its MP3 500.

The Piaggio MP3 500 scooter is a three-wheeler with two wheels at the front. Piaggio

Piaggio Group Americas, a subsidiary of the Italian manufacturer known for the Vespa, has a highway legal plug-in hybrid scooter in the works that could be available in the U.S. for early 2010.

While Paolo Timoni, the president and CEO of Piaggio Group Americas, has made mention of this plan in interviews, the company has made no formal announcement so it's been hard to gauge whether you can hold it to the timeline.

The plug-in hybrid version in the works is a modified version of Piaggio's MP3 500 (the Gilera Fuoco in Europe). The MP3 500 scooter in plug-in hybrid version will get about 140 mpg, have a range of 40 miles per charge when running on electric power alone, and be priced between $8,000 and $9,000, according to Timoni.

For those unfamiliar with the MP3 500, it's a scooter/motorcycle hybrid that attempts to get rid of the girlie, Audrey Hepburn image of the Vespa. It offers a little more speed and heft, but with two front wheels maintains the stability of a scooter. There is even a switch so drivers don't have to balance themselves at stoplights.

Timoni acknowledged in one interview that one obstacle his company has had to overcome is that U.S. cities are not yet scooter-friendly. Rather than offering preferred parking spaces, most U.S. drivers are faced with the same parking options as car drivers.

But the company was encouraged by its 2008 U.S. success, according to Timoni. While sales were down in the last quarter, Piaggio Group Americas saw a 61 percent increase in the sales of scooters and 15 percent increase in motorcycles overall for 2008. The company attributed the good year to the gas price increase, convenience, and the lower cost of scooters generally compared to cars.

If the company makes good on Timoni's promise, as HybridCars points out, this would mean Piaggio is going to beat Chevy and its Volt to market by about six months.

While there are all-electric plug-in scooters, a hybrid would give riders the flexibility of filling up at the pump in an emergency. They wouldn't be stuck without juice, or have to time when they next need to charge up at an outlet.

Whether a scooter is an actual competitor to a rain-proof car is arguable. But you could see a plug-in hybrid scooter as an option for urbanites and commuters who park daily at the train station near their house.

Piaggio did not immediately return a request for comment.

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About the author

In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet, Silicon.com, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.

 

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