Every year, J. D. Power highlights the automobiles that retain the highest percentage of their original price after three years. But the vehicle that beats them all never makes the list.
This winner would seem an unlikely value champ. It looks much as it did 72 years ago, when it made its debut. It has a sparse half cubic foot of luggage space, and its base model sports an anemic 3.2 horsepower generating a top speed of 40 miles per hour. But there is a good reason it didn’t make the list. It’s not a car. It’s a scooter. Very specifically, a Vespa scooter.
Across all 24 classes of vehicles considered in the Resale Value Awards, average retention value for four-wheelers was 55.7 percent. For all Vespas it was 72.1 percent, according to data from J. D. Power, giving Vespa an edge by over 16 percentage points. With the exception of collectible vehicles, Vespa scooters hold their value better than anything else on the road, including other scooter and motorcycle brands.
Two Vespa models outpaced the rest of the line: the Sprint 150 and the GTS 300, which retain an average of 79 percent of their original value after three years. They beat the best cars, trucks and sport utility vehicles, including the overall winner, the Dodge Heavy Duty Ram 3500 (75 percent); the best compact premium sporty car leaders, the Porsche Cayman and Boxster (58.9 percent); and even the celebrated 911 (58.7 percent). They beat the large premium S.U.V. winner, the Cadillac Escalade (56 percent). They crushed the leading small car, the Ford Fiesta (43.2 percent).
One reason may be that Vespa holds a unique place in its market. While cars from Porsche, Land Rover or Mercedes might duke it out for premium buyers, the scooter business is different.
“Vespa is an upscale luxury marque,” said Chelsea Lahmers, founder of Moto Richmond in Virginia, which sells Vespas and other brands of scooters and motorcycles. “Most luxury brands have competition. Vespa doesn’t have any competition.”
This isn’t strictly true. Honda offers the Metropolitan, Yamaha the Vino 50 and Genuine the Buddy, to name a few.
According to Genuine’s vice president for sales and operations, Trey Duren, all three of those brands outsell Vespa in the United States. All three are also less expensive than the Vespa. But none have achieved the Vespa cachet or retention value.
Even BMW’s luxury scooter, the C650 GT, an $11,000 60-horsepower brute with a top speed of 112 m.p.h., has failed to capture a Vespa-like following. Large scooters like the BMW and Suzuki’s Burgman 650 Executive are what scooterists call a “maxi.”
“On a maxi you can get to the coast at 80 miles per hour in the lap of luxury. On a scooter, it’s a struggle.”
There are also budget imports, mostly from China, that make no pretension to luxury or retention value. While people who want a scooter will most likely buy a Vespa, Honda, Yamaha or Buddy, there are also people who simply need a scooter. They may be so economically pinched that it is the only roadworthy vehicle they can afford.
A respectable Chinese-made scooter will run less than $2,000 new, will get around 140 miles per gallon and will cost less than $100 a year in insurance. Many states require neither a driver’s license nor registration to ride the streets on a scooter with a 50cc or smaller motor.
As for retention value, there is none. “Most of those will end up in a dumpster,” said Colin Shattuck, author of “Scooters: Red Eyes, Whitewalls and Blue Smoke” and owner of Sportique Scooters in Colorado.
Vespa has stuck close to the aesthetic of its original 1946 debut, adding to its mystique. It also kept metal bodywork where competitors have used plastic.
“It has the highest level of fit and finish of anything we sell,” Ms. Lahmers said. “They are beautiful. Everything about them is beautiful.”