In the last six months, one particular model of Honda motorcycle has been turning heads around the capital.
Festooned with bright decals and usually mounted by someone affecting an air of needing to be somewhere important, the vehicles are grabbing attention from locals, even in a city where Honda’s dominance of the motorbike market is almost total.
The current generation of the Scoopy, a stout 108cc scooter with design reminiscent of the Vespa, has been manufactured by Honda for the last 10 years.
Limited-edition releases of the 2011/12 models have been sold on the showroom floor in Thailand with a number of ostentatious designs, including purple racing stripes and oversized stickers of a red lipstick stain, and with the team colours and logos of popular English Premier League football clubs including Manchester United and Liverpool.
Honda has not imported any of the special-edition Scoopys, and their presence in Phnom Penh is the result of grey-market importation from Thailand.
According to Prak Bonira, the company’s Cambodian marketing manager, the Honda factory in Thailand made half a dozen special editions of the Scoopy, but only the Scoopy I Prestige is exported to Cambodia for sale by the company.
With a smaller market than its western neighbour, Honda’s Cambodian arm appears to have made a commercial decision to refrain from importing the customised imports.
Another spokesperson for Honda noted that despite the popularity of the scooter among prospective buyers, sales of the Scoopy were dwarfed by the new model Dream motorcycle.
The 2012 model of the Scoopy I Prestige found in Honda’s Boueng Keng Kang 1 showroom is relatively unadorned, sold only with a red, white or black chrome exterior.
Vouch Lay, owner of Phnom Penh’s Vouch Lay motorcycle shop, says that Honda Scoopy with football brand names Man U and Liverpool began appearing in Phnom Penh around August, 2011.
He noticed that the Honda dealership was not stocking the special models and became curious about their origin.
“The motorcycles with football club names were decorated in Thailand and imported into Cambodia through small border gates. When they arrived in Cambodia, they applied for a legal importation in the provinces, and then [the vehicle] becomes legal,” Vouch Lay said.
At the time, his business bought several of the special models to sell for US$2350, about $300 more than the official Honda motorbike dealership on Monivong Boulevard sells its 2012 Scoopy models.
Noting the lack of demand, Vouch Lay decided not to import any more of the special edition models beyond his initial supply.
“Compared to other motorbikes, only young men below the age of 30 wanted to buy the English football model of the Honda Scoopy. We’ve stopped buying them any more because I rarely see our clients looking for them,” he said.