Ask SF: Buy a Vespa GTS 300 Now, or Wait for the GTS 350?

Ask ScooterFile is a recurring segment where we answer questions sent in by ScooterFile readers. You can ask your own question by sending us an email here: ask@scooterfile.com

Today’s Ask ScooterFile question comes to us from Sam:

Hey there, thanks for all of the great info and articles. I’ve really enjoyed them and you helped me make up my mind in many scooter decisions. I am currently riding a buddy 170i and am interested in the GTS 300. Do you still think the fabled GTS 350 will arrive in 2016? I hate to buy the 300 and then see the 350 released a few months later. That said I don’t want to wait endlessly for a 350 and miss out on the fun of a 300. Would definitely appreciate your input. Thanks!

Thanks for writing in, Sam.

So, when will we see a redesigned Vespa large-frame? I’ll level with you. We don’t have any new information about if or when the rumored BV350-based Vespa large-frame scooter will arrive. We expected it this year, but with the minor refresh of the GTS for 2015 adding ABS and ASR, as well as some trim updates, it looks like the current body style is going to be with us until at least 2016, if not longer. We double-checked with our sources and as of yet, there aren’t any new rumblings about a big redesign of the GTS, 350 or otherwise.

So as you consider whether or not to wait for a next-generation GTS, keep in mind that it’ll be at least a year. If we don’t see a concept at EICMA this autumn, then I’d bet good money it’d be 2017 at the soonest, if ever.

To wait, or not to wait?

That’s the question. It’s a classic conundrum. Do I buy the current model, or do I wait for the new one? It’s a question that transcends scooters and can apply to cars, motorcycles, boats, watches, smartphones, laptops, TVs, and many more purchase categories. I’m going to attempt to answer your question in general, and then also in specifics.

The case for the current model

Most manufactured goods these days are not designed to be heirloom items. In days past, machines and even household goods were designed to be as durable, serviceable and reliable as possible. The idea was that you’d buy a coffee grinder, or a car, and it’d either last pretty much forever, or it’d be serviceable in such as way that you could easily swap out worn or damaged parts and keep it going for a good long while. The idea was that you’d keep that item for a long time without needing, or wanting, to replace it.

Today, most goods (even durable ones) are created under what’s known as “planned obsolescence” — or put another way, they’re designed to change incrementally year after year, with bigger “generational” jumps happening every few years. While this is a much larger topic we don’t need to get into in detail to address your question, the primary drivers behind the planned obsolescence strategy is that 1) items are cheaper to produce and thereby more profitable, and 2) by rolling out consistent tweaks and updates to a product, companies can tap into our natural desire for the newest, greatest thing. It’s really easy for something new and shiny to make what we’ve already got feel old and dull, even if the new item is only 1-2% different.

Vehicles are perhaps the easiest segment of products to observe planned obsolescence in action. In the scooter world, the difference between one model year to the next might be as little as new color choices or a previously optional item becoming standard. It’s important to recognize these incremental changes for what they are, because when it comes to making a purchase decision between one model year and another, I think that it’s important to take the scope of the updates into account. Using the Vespa GTS as an example, if we look at the difference between a 2013 and a 2014 GTS Super, the only appreciable difference would be color choices.

Heuristic: If the changes from one model year to another are small, buy whichever model year comes in the color you want and then just go enjoy yourself. Don’t over-think it.

That said, when we start talking about generational shifts in a given scooter model, then we have more changes in play and a couple other key things to think about.

One very positive side effect of planned obsolescence is that as we get closer to a new generation of a given model, we can take advantage of all the “extras” that have been added incrementally over the life of that model. In the marketplace, there is pressure on Vespa to keep the price from inflating year after year, because eventually they’ll price themselves out of purchase consideration. Yet they still have the pressure to justify each year’s new model with at least token updates. Using the GTS 300 as our example again, for 2015 we saw the addition of ABS/ASR, plus a redesigned front suspension — making the GTS arguably the best its ever been. Taken over the GT-series’ full lifespan, we also saw the addition of fuel-injection, the growth in engine size from 200cc to 278cc, plus the addition of the GTS Super trim line.

Heuristic: By the time we get to the end of a product’s generational lifecycle, we tend to have the maximum number of available features from that product’s whole lifespan, and we essentially get them for free. In the case of the 2015 GTS 300, when adjusted for inflation, it’s only $300 more expensive than the GT200L was in 2005. Would I have paid $300 in 2005 for a fuel-injected Vespa GT200L with more horsepower, ABS and traction control? You bet I would!

Related to that, for quality manufacturers like Vespa, having several years to work out engineering, supplier, and quality control issues on a given model means that:

Heuristic: Scooters built toward the end of a model’s generation will tend to have fewer issues in the long run. This is not a guarantee, but it’s a good bet.

Forgetting about the manufacturers for a moment, let’s think about the aftermarket. For any established market, the aftermarket parts, accessories and performance goodies that have grown up to serve those owners will be at its richest and most well-developed toward the end of a model’s generation.

Heuristic: Buying the current model scooter means you have the maximum amount of aftermarket options for accessories and performance parts.

The case against new models

These generational lifecycle heuristics work the other way too. A product at the beginning of its lifecycle will have fewer features than the same machine will have at the end of its lifecycle. Entirely new models also tend to have teething issues, but they also typically grow out of them quickly. This doesn’t mean they’re of poor quality, it’s just the reality of launching a new product. There will be bugs. Some big, some small, but that’s what warrantees are for, so don’t sweat it too hard. Lastly, it’ll take months and years for aftermarket companies to do the R&D for the new models. Until they do, you’re stuck with whatever accessories the manufacturers came up with for launch, which tend to be limited.

The case for new models

The emotional impact of planned obsolescence is easy to dismiss intellectually, but the pull toward the new is strong, even if it is irrational. In discretionary goods especially, having the latest and greatest is satisfying in and unto itself, at least for a time. Being an early adopter can be really fun. It’s easy to imagine ourselves turning up to the local scooter ride on a scooter nobody in the group has seen before. Basically, it’s fun to feel like we’re first. If that’s important to you, then maybe the new model is worth the wait.

I know this isn’t conventional buying advice, and I don’t care. We need to stop pretending that we make purchase decisions rationally. We just don’t. I think it’s short-sighted and a different kind of irrational to pretend that the emotional content of our buying decisions either isn’t there, or worse, doesn’t matter.

Heuristic: All other factors being equal, follow your gut. If the “new” gets your juices flowing that way, then by all means, take the risk. Roll the dice on that new model and see where you land. Carpe diem.

At the very least, you’re guaranteed that the new model will be different. It will most likely be better in key ways than what it’s replacing. It’ll probably have more power, be more fuel-efficient, and have more contemporary design elements. It won’t be less expensive, but it’s highly unlikely that it will have fewer features than the scooter it’s replacing, so the value proposition should be roughly the same. In that sense, the new model should have all the same virtues the old model, plus all the chic of being significantly new and different. That is, until Vespa sells a bunch of them.

Vespa GTS 300 vs. Vespa GTS 350 specifically

With all that said, let’s try to get a little more specific. The tricky thing about your question is that we only have rumors about the upcoming GTS 350. We’ve been told we’ll see the drivetrain from the BV350. We’re assuming this new machine will share the new Vespa design language that started with the 946, and that we’ve seen in both the Primavera and the Sprint. I think we can also safely assume that the new large-frame will be both longer and heavier than the existing GTS 300.

Yet for all the rumors and the guessing, we simply can’t know. We can’t make an apples-to-apples comparison because we’re an apple short. We simply don’t have enough information, and we can’t accurately predict exactly what Vespa will do, or even when they’ll do it. Also, we humans are much worse at predicting than we think we are, so let’s look at a way to make a decision today that takes this uncertainty into account.

Upsides vs. downsides

Since we can’t know the details of the mythical GTS 350, let’s define possible positive and negative outcomes of each purchase decision and then look for large asymmetries. Basically, if the number (and more importantly the magnitude) of upsides or downsides are really one-sided, then that tells us a lot about that decision. I find this method a lot more useful than simple pro/con lists because it takes the magnitude of each better into account.

(For a deep dive on this method of analysis, check out Nassim Taleb’s book, Antifragile.)

Let’s start with opting for the current Vespa GTS 300. In the spreadsheet below, the downsides are on the left and the upsides are on the right. The estimated relative magnitude of each upside or downside is represented by height. So the taller a line item’s box, the better or worse it is in terms of outcomes relative to the other items listed.

Antifragile analysis of GTS 300 vs. GTS 350

By my estimation, the upsides far outweigh the downsides in just going ahead and grabbing the 2015 Vespa GTS right now. Obviously, we could keep making longer and longer lists of upsides and downsides, but I think it’s the relative magnitude of these big positive items that point to this being a good idea. Also, the 2015 Vespa GTS 300 Super ABS is simply terrific.

That said, we shouldn’t assume that just because the 2015 Vespa GTS 300 seems like a good idea, that holding off for the next generation of the Vespa large-frame is automatically a bad idea. So let’s look at that scenario: holding off for the Vespa GTS 350 instead:

Antifragile analysis of GTS 300 vs. GTS 350

As I see it, the possible downsides are of greater magnitude than the upsides. I want to clarify, however, that I don’t think this means that a Vespa GTS 350 would be a bad scooter. Not at all! The conclusion I draw from this analysis is that it would be a poor idea to wait to buy the new model. When the new model actually comes out, I’m sure it’ll be a great scooter. We need only look at the new Primavera and Sprint models and how much better they are than the scooters they replaced. Vespa knows what their doing, the big question here is more about timing.

Conclusions

My advice to you, Sam, would be to go ahead and grab a 2015 Vespa GTS 300 Super ABS. Don’t wait. There’s still plenty of summer left to enjoy. Let the new bike come when it will and give it a good look when it does. In the meantime, I say put yourself on your own planned obsolescence schedule. Enjoy this current, highly-evolved version of the large-frame Vespa for the next several years and keep an eye on the new one if and when it comes out. By the time you’re ready for your next scooter, that next generation bike will be waiting for you and all the new model bugs will be well worked out of it. If you’re able to keep chasing the tail end of each successive generation, you’ll likely keep buying the best versions of that scooter. That’s the strategy I’d recommend.

Let’s hear from you

Part of these Ask ScooterFile segments is that we want to hear from our readers as well. How would you advise Sam on this question? Are you holding off for the next generation Vespa? Or are you loving your new GTS? Sound off in the comments.

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