Don't ever call this beast a tricycle. The new three-wheeled motor scooter from Piaggio, due to hit American shores early next year, is like nothing you've straddled before. On an extended test-drive in and around Rome, the MP3, as it's called, ate up the cobblestones and maneuvered easily in traffic, cornered brilliantly on country roads, stayed stable even on slippery gravel, then cruised comfortably on the autostrada. At a standstill, with the press of a button it ... stands still, upright, so no need to prop yourself up with a foot on the pavement. To park, you just put on the brake. No kickstand required.
Sure, the MP3's appearance is more than a little unusual. It has one wheel in back, and two up front that tilt into turns, then lock upright to stop. Coming at you head on, the MP3 looks like the maw of some sci-fi alien. Piaggio hopes it will become the next big thing in scooters, drawing in a whole new class of stability-conscious buyers. The MP3, already on sale in Europe, should be available in the United States by early next year, at a price of about $6,500.
In 2003, when Roberto Colaninno acquired the Italian company that brought us the Vespa scooter 60 years ago, it had hit hard times. Despite heavy debts and tough competition, Colaninno turned the company around. Earlier this summer, Piaggio launched a successful $1.2 billion IPO. U.S. sales grew 25 percent in the 12 months through July. George Dern, general manager of Varsity Cycles in Palm Beach, Fla., hopes the otherworldly MP3 will help Americans attain what he calls the European "wisdom" of owning a scooter for urban transportation. With gas prices so high, that's no longer such an alien concept.