Manufacturer's turf war for scooter buyers

A battle is brewing to try and win over city riders who'd traditionally be choosing between a scooter and public transport for their everyday commutes.

HOT ON THE heels of announcements from BMW (owners of the Mini brand) and Mercedes (parent of Smart) that their subsidiaries are to launch short-range electric scooters – marking a first move from four wheels to two for both the brands – comes the news that Piaggio is taking a step in the opposite direction, developing a cheap-as-chips four-wheeled urban runabout.

Piaggio's new NT3 is officially still a “concept” but the firm says it will be a production reality within three years. Likely to be made in India or Asia to keep costs down, and powered by the firm's existing 200cc and 300cc scooter engines, as well as a hybrid 300cc with additional electric oomph, the NT3 seats three, with the driver in the middle and ahead of the passengers, rather like a McLaren F1 supercar. With a price that's likely to be similar to a big scooter, Piaggio is expecting to sell huge numbers in developing countries but also reckons it will appeal in European cities.

The electric bikes from Mini and Smart will also be priced in the big scooter region while a third rival, Renault's electric Twizy – an electric four-wheeler with bike-style tandem seating for two –  is set to go into production next year with a price, once again, around the same as a big scooter.

Oh, and then there's the leaning four-wheeled creation from new Italian firm Quadro Tecnologie, a sort of four-wheeled take on the Piaggio MP3, also due on sale next year. How much do its makers expect it to cost? Go on, have a guess...

On the more traditional scooter side of the battle, BMW has revealed plans to make its own large-capacity two-wheeled scooter, with design derived from its new Concept C, while Honda's “New Mid” concept also shows another take on the big scooter idea; claiming it to be a crossover between a motorcycle and a scooter. Which is pretty much exactly what it claimed for the 2005 E4-01 concept and the 2003 Griffon concept, not to mention the DN-01.

Time will tell which solution is going to be the biggest hit, and whether the traditional scooter can survive the onslaught of new ideas.