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Piaggio speeds ahead with hybrid scooter

Looking to develop hybrid technology, the major supplier of scooters in Europe unveils the MP3 Hybrid scooter, which improves fuel efficiency by 50 percent.

Italy's Piaggio wants to clean up the image of scooters.

The company, which makes several lines of scooters, on Tuesday introduced a hybrid version of its three-wheeled MP3 scooter, which it claims is the first hybrid scooter.

Sign of more to come? Piaggio's MP3 hybrid scooter. Piaggio

The MP3 Hybrid improves mileage and reduces carbon emissions by 50 percent, according to the company. It should also reduce other air pollutants, which has led some European cities to keep scooters and other vehicles out of certain areas.

The company, which sells the iconic Vespa brand, plans to make the hybrid available in Europe by August for about $12,500 and in the U.S. by 2010, according to an article in The Wall Street Journal.

The MP3 Hybrid costs more than the gasoline MP3 scooters, which range from about $7,100 to $9,000 in the U.S. But the company is investing in the hybrid power train with an eye toward using the technology in other models, as Toyota has done with the power train in the Prius.

The hybrid MP3 operates as a typical hybrid car, optimizing fuel efficiency by using the gasoline engine and stored energy in its lithium ion batteries. When the vehicle decelerates and brakes, it charges the battery.

A driver can choose an all-electric mode for short trips and can view both the gas tank reserves and the amount of battery charge remaining from the dash.

In the U.S., purchases of hybrid and all-electric scooters, such as the Vectrix, qualify for a 10 percent tax rebate.