Not-A-Review: Vespa Elettrica, Italy’s Electric Scooter

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I will be honest, I don’t keep that close of tabs on the scooter segment in the motorcycle industry. This is probably because it feels like a separate entity all onto itself. I do try to keep a pulse on the Vespa brand though, and let me explain why.

When you think of scooters, no name is perhaps more iconic than Vespa. So, that makes it an obvious choice, but I also track the movement of the Italian scooter-maker because it acts as a bellwether for the space. Where Vespa goes, surely so too does the rest of the scooter market. 

This is why we have been covering the Vespa Elettrica with a great deal of interest on Asphalt & Rubber. As you can expect from the name, the bike is Vespa’s first electric model, and it is finally ready for public consumption.

Ripping around the streets of Milan, Italy on the the Vespa Elettrica, A&R gets our first feel for what electric urban mobility looks like from Vespa, and we were able to frame that against the company’s other newest model, the potent Vespa GTS Super 300.

As such, here is not-a-review of this intriguing new two-wheeler.

A Primer on the Vespa Elettrica

A 50cc equivalent machine, the Vespa Elettrica aims to take advantage of the tiered licensing schemes in Europe, which lump in the low-power scooter with the rest of the moped market, and thus make the step-thru bike very easy to ride without having a full-blown motorcycle license.

In the United States, this is a bit more hit-and-miss, as some jurisdictions (like California, for example) show little distinction in their laws between a moped license and a motorcycle license, which makes accessibility a bit tougher.

But, for the markets that make the distinction, the goal is to recreate with the Elettrica now what Vespa originally did back in 1946 in post-World War II Italy – change the way urban mobility works in this new era of transportation.

Gone are the two strokes, and the four-stroke era is coming to a close as well. As such, things here are electric, and therefore we see a 4.6 kWh batter pack mated to a 5hp (4 kW) electric motor. There is also a 1 kW charger onboard, which can handle up to 220 volts, if your wall outlet can provide it.

Tech sheet stats are not where the Vespa Elettrica lives, however. The power of the Vespa brand doesn’t reside in sheer technical numbers, but instead on a lifestyle, the center of which is zipping from Point A to Point B.

Zip / Zap

For that, the Elettrica provides up to 60 miles of range on a single charge, not that you will hit that sort of distance on a day’s worth of electrons when you are limited to speeds under 30 mph. 

This is where my biggest complaint comes with the Vespa Elettrica comes into play, as while I understand the need for a speed governor, in order to keep the bike classified as a moped, the scooter lacks the off-the-line acceleration that is synonymous with electrics, which is ever-so-crucial when bouncing through stoplights in Italian city traffic.

…and that is in the Elettrica’s “Power” mode. Switch into “Eco” and the Vespa Elettrica is downright scary in the dense urban jungle that is Milan. You just don’t have the rate of acceleration to get yourself out of trouble as you dodge city trams, cars, tourists, and Louis Vuitton handbags.

It is what it is though, and the Vespa Elettrica was made on the understanding that it was the first of several electric scooter models set to come from the Italian brand.

I should be fair too, because the reality is that there are few faults that can be attributed to the Elettrica that can’t be said about the 50cc scooter market as a whole, and that is the intriguing part of the equation.

You Meet the Nicest People on a Vespa

Lack of power aside, what struck me the most was how this classically shaped people-mover struck those around me. And again, consider that this is supposed to be on-par with the unassuming 50cc scooter class.

Vespa scooters aren’t exactly uncommon in a city like Milan either. In fact, they are a dime a dozen around this Italian metropolis, which is known best for its runway models and chic lifestyle. A Vespa scooter is very much Milan in two-wheeled form, when you think about it.

Yet, everywhere we went, we were stopped by the casual onlooker who wanted to know more about this machine. Was it electric? What was the price? Oh yes, I used to deliver the mail on a Vespa…

If there is a smell test for whether or not a bike like the Elettrica is a true Vespa, then surely the comments and reactions it solicits from even the most casual of Milanese onlookers is surely it. There is no doubt that this is an Italian scooter in their eyes. I think my eyes agree as well.

Despite the high-tech dash that is constantly in front of you, you forget pretty quick that the Elettrica is an electric scooter, and instead you begin to enjoy the ability to hear your surroundings, interact with the bustling crowd of rush-hour traffic that is around you, and of course the pair of colleagues that are bombing between cars with you.

Hardcore motorcyclists talk about the visceral sound of their motorcycles like it is an integral part of their two-wheeled experience, and of course it is. But, what I always find interesting is how the absence of sound on an electric motorcycle doesn’t detract from my time on the machine. Instead, it enhances it…and understand that when I say this, I say it as someone who loves the rumble of a big v-twin or thumper with race exhaust pipes.

Maybe it is because there is less bravado that comes with riding a scooter – though, I would argue that the loss of the two-stroke buzz of angry bees is very much a part of the classic scooter experience). Or maybe, it is because the sum is larger than its parts.

Boiled down, motorcycles – or in this case, scooters – are not one single sensory stimulus, or one single element. They are a sum of sensory inputs, all of which culminate in pushing the “fun” button that is buried deep within our souls. Vespa understands this element quite well, which is why they are said to build more than just scooters.

What is clear after riding the Elettrica is that the formula for that success is not tied to just a drivetrain, or just a sound, or just a smell. It is something else. It is the totality and sum of a variety of experiences and sensations. That is the new measuring mark.

Gas Parity

If we come back from the romantic, and back to the practical, I want to spend a few words on riding Vespa’s newest gas scooter, the Vespa GTS Super 300 – which is the most powerful Vespa ever created.

It is interesting that this 300cc scooter represents the pinnacle of Vespa’s four-stroke design, and yet costs about the same as the Vespa Elettrica. For instance in the US market, the GTS Super in yellow costs $7,200 MSRP while the Vespe Elettrica goes for $7,500 MSRP.

We talk a great deal about price and performance parity in the motorcycle space, especially as electrics continue to gain ground on their thermic counterparts.

Perhaps unexpectedly, Vespa set up an interesting intersection for that concept for us with their testing opportunity, as we can see pretty clearly what the same amount of money buys you from these two realms.

The Vespa GTS Super is everything you want from a scooter and more. It perhaps has too much power even, as it smokes just about anything off the line in a standing start. Easily highway capable, it is a scooter that is going to do well not only in Europe, but also in the American market. This is what big bike riders are looking for in a step-thru design.

Don’t tell my friends, but I quite enjoyed scooting around on this little bumble bee of a machine…it rallies in the dirt pretty good too, but don’t let word of that reach the ears of Vespa.

Despite the apparent performance difference, the gap between the GTS Super and Elettrica is perhaps not so wide.

Three hours on each machine barely scratched the battery and fuel tank capacities, both nimbled their way through cobblestoned Italian streets, and the duo provided a fun way to simply move about a dense urban area.

Sure, I would love to map the power from the GTS Super 300 to the Elettrica, but it is not hard to imagine a 125cc, 250cc, or even 300cc equivalent electric being just a year or two away from Vespa’s lineup…and at gas-powered prices.

That will be an interesting day though, because then we will have to start having a very real discussion about the future of petrol scooters, which will lead to a conversation about gas-powered motorcycles, which will lead to a conversation…

Photos: Milagro