June 13, 2003

Small, cheap, motorized scooters

In my neighborhood there is a bit of a summer fad going on that involves young men (mostly) zooming about on inexpensive (~$400) motorized scooters. I would trace the evolution of these scooters back to the foot powered ones that kids zoom about on (the progression involved putting motors on the scooter with the rider standing, followed by the addition of, bigger wheels, seats and fenders).

Beyond curiosity and a bit of middle-age grumbling, an interesting set of thoughts was triggered when I wondered where one would get parts and repair for these things. The answer I came up with is that you probably don't. These machines are cheap enough so that if they last the better part of the summer they are purchased at the beginning of, then they become essentially disposable and rapid dissemination can come in the absence of any infrastructure other than distribution of the machines themselves (e.g. UPS).

The key to this set of ideas seems to be a confluence of inexpensive design and increase in reliability. At point where disposability crosses price in some utility space, the need for a supporting infrastructure beyond distribution and disposal goes away.