Scooters are one of the fastest growing two-wheel variants in the automotive industry. Scooter sales have rocketed worldwide, with finances being the biggest motivation to buy.
The average 125cc machine consumes fuel at a rate of only 3 litres per 100km and maintenance costs are minimal. A cheap Chinese or Indian machine from a reputable importer retails at around R6000, which is less than the cost of a set of good tyres for a performance car or 4X4.
The biggest player in the South African scooter market is Jonway, who apart from the products bearing that name, also imports Bajaj, Bashan and Gomoto models, some selling for as little as R6999. Big Boy is very close behind with a wide range of scooters and affordable motorcycles that retail at anything from R5450 for a basic commuter motorcycle to R33000 for a 450cc dirt bike.
At the other end of the cost spectrum are items like the 55kW V-twin Gilera GP 800 scooter that costs well over R100 000, covers the standing start 400m acceleration run in only 11.1 seconds and reaches a top speed of 190km/h.
Somewhere in between come the mainstream Japanese motorcycle importers who sell quality products at prices somewhat higher than the Chinese and Indian offerings.
The Taiwanese PGO and Sym scooters, brought in since the 1990’s by Kawasaki and Suzuki respectively, fall into this category. Kawasaki also brings in the budget Zongshen range, while Vespa imports the Gilera range alongside its own, high-quality scooters.
The scooter industry in South Africa has until now not flourished as it should according to worldwide trends. In other developing countries like India, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and China cheap scooters and small commuter motorcycles way outsell cars and bigger motorcycles, and are often the only form of transport for a family.
In Malaysia alone new scooter and commuter motorcycle sales each year top 520 000 units, for a population half the size of South Africa’s. In Nigeria the Okada – the generic nickname for a small motorcycle or scooter that operates as a taxi – is one of the favourite modes of public transport because the little machines can cut through the chaotic traffic in Lagos and can traverse badly maintained roads that would be impassable in a car, a taxi or a bus.
In South Africa the minibus taxi has provided transport for township dwellers for a couple of decades, but the motor scooter is becoming increasingly popular after three decades of being ignored.
“Things are changing very fast,” says Alex Lenaerts, who started Big Boy in South Africa 10 years ago and now sees between 600 and 800 units roll out of dealers’ showrooms every month.
“We’ve built our brand on selling affordable machines to people for commuting or for leisure. Now we’re starting to do commercial deals to supply corporate clients. There are also changes in the people we’re selling them to and their reasons for buying. There are a lot of black people who now see scooters and motorcycles as an image thing, while many whites look at them purely for the cost saving. Scooters are here to stay.”
Jonway MD Frans Earle agrees that two-wheeled transport is catching on fast in all communities. “I think we have to understand that everything is money-driven and transport is a basic necessity. If a commuter can save R400 or R500 a month he will do so. A R6000 scooter costs about R212 to finance, and some people spend much more than that a month on commuting by car, train or taxi. For under R500 a month he can pay for his scooter, the insurance and the fuel and still have hundreds left over. At the moment 20 percent of our sales are to black buyers but I expect to see that rise to 80 percent or 90 percent within a couple of years.”
The possibilities are endless. With the increased congestion in the cities and the rising cost of fuel and servicing low-cost two wheelers are suddenly very appealing as delivery vehicles and for the daily commute.