Piaggio: Return of the Italians

A few weeks back Rick Panettieri, the brand manager for Aprilia and Moto Guzzi, stopped by Dealernews' office to give an update on what's happening with the Piaggio Group America's ongoing efforts to re-establish the brands here in the United States.

It's been four years since PGA first announced its acquisition of the two storied Italian marques. Since then Piaggio has been working to shore up supply chain problems, strengthen its dealer network, develop new models, and build brand awareness.

While these efforts have hit a few bumps along the way, PGA has made headway in reintroducing Aprilia and Moto Guzzi to the riding public while navigating the bumps.

Earlier this year PGA president Paolo Timoni said Aprilia would take the lead in representing the company's portfolio in the mid-level and top-end segments of the high-performance market. With Moto Guzzi it was working to improve customer service and after-sales support while boosting market penetration by introducing new models.

Panettieri says the Moto Guzzi work is going well, due mainly to the introduction of the Norge and the California Vintage models. Moto Guzzi is expected to gain further when it unveils the Stelvio later this year. Aprilia gained recognition when its SXV 5.5 won the Pikes Peak hill climb 750 class in July.

The consumer motorcycle press is lauding Aprilia's Shiver and Mana models, while its SportCity and Scarabeo scooters are finding a solid place in the scooter craze.

We did a brief Q&A with Panettieri about the two brands. Here's what he had to say:

Could you talk a little bit about what Piaggio Group America is doing to reassure Aprilia and Moto Guzzi dealers that the supply chain is more dependable?
We have been making changes to our IT systems, processes, and adding more people to improve the supply chain. Currently our parts fill rate is over 95 percent within two weeks depending upon brand and month. Overall the results have been great so far.

How many Aprilia and Moto Guzzi dealers does PGA currently have?
We have about 126 Moto Guzzi dealers and 161 Aprilia dealers and we are continuing to add dealers this year and plan to add more dealers next year.

What kind of dealerships is PGA looking for? Stand-alone shops, multilines or European-only stores? And where?
We have a plan to open dealerships in locations where there is a need based upon market size and our share of the market. Most of the dealerships we are opening are multilines, some are European-only, and very few are stand alone.

You talked about a new sales force calling on dealers. Could you elaborate?
The sales force that has been assembled over the past two years is different than the previous Aprilia World Services sales force. Our dealers have already been working with the new sales team that represents not only Moto Guzzi but also Piaggio, Vespa and Aprilia.

Could you elaborate on the company's grassroots marketing efforts (racing, etc.)?
For Aprilia we are focusing on the racing aspect of the brand and putting some very competitive teams in the Supermoto series, flat track, and Moto-ST racing series and have been getting some great results over the past few years. During 2007 we won the riders and team championship in the Unlimited Supermoto class and the Moto-ST top class. We have also been getting great results in the Expert Twins and GNC Twins class of flat track racing this year. We also encourage our dealers to attend these races and bring their customers so they can witness the sound and up close feeling of racing at the top levels in the USA.

How effective has this been over traditional marketing efforts?
We feel it is more effective since we are targeting customers that attend races or read about the race results rather than just placing advertisements in magazines or on the Web. We supplement our racing efforts and other grassroots marketing programs with some traditional marketing like national advertisements and local ads placed by our dealers. It is really a matter of targeting a smaller group of dedicated enthusiasts that can appreciate the technology and racing background that Aprilia has.

What are the details of the Dealer Race Team program?
We sent out a letter to all of our Aprilia dealers looking for racers in various race series and were flooded with dealers that wanted an opportunity to race the product locally and show people how competitive the bikes are. We reviewed the applicants and awarded a new bike for some dealers to race for the season.
The selection process was determined by the potential to win races, represent the brand, and also sell additional bikes. In addition to getting the brand name better engrained into the racing world we also get our dealers more engaged with us, potential customers and the product. It has been working well, and we have posted some of their race results and photos on our Web site.

Who is the target buyer for Aprilia's off-road bikes?
In the Aprilia lineup we call the SXV Supermoto bikes and RXV enduro bikes off-road. The SXV has been selling well to people who appreciate a small, light streetbike with great power and handling, and who do not have much concern about items like a comfortable seat or long fuel range. It really is a race bike that is street legal and a blast to ride on the street or the track, and can embarrass much larger streetbikes.
The RXV enduro bikes are also great to ride in fast, open territory where the strong engine can show its power. This bike is not intended for the young, timid or weak; it is a real powerhouse for people who know how to use it.