Wanted: Two Wheel Riders Who Want to Save the Industry

Publish Date: 
Apr 10, 2009
By Dennis Johnson

Piaggio USA president and CEO Paolo Timoni (photo, left) used the opening of the company's national training center to detail the growth of its four brands and continue his push to get more Americans on two wheels.

Timoni's delivered his message about continuing the push of Piaggio's Vespanomics platform before a mass gathering of the motorcycling press at the new facility located along the industrial edge of Costa Mesa, Calif. Included in the invite to tour the building was the offer to ride the (almost) complete lineup from the company's four brands.

The soft-spoken Timoni discussed the state of the U.S. motorcycle industry, saying that the key to continuing growth is to convince potential customers that two wheels are economical and a viable form of transportation. He pointed to the spike in scooter sales over the past eight years (about 14,000 units in 2000 vs. 78,000 in 2008) as an indication that more people are buying two-wheelers for transportation rather than recreation.

Timoni also said the ratio of annual sales vs. actual riders was too disproportionate. There are an estimate 8 million riders in a country with a population of about 300,000,000, he explained. "This industry needs to have several more million buyers than we have," Timoni added. Piaggio has been pushing its Vespanomics campaign since 2006, an effort that details the benefits that come from riding on two-wheels. In a series of ads, statements and studies, the Italian OEM has attempted to convince local and state governments that motorcycles and scooters will help alleviate not only transportation headaches, but reduce America's reliance on foreign oil and are more environmentally responsible than cars.

"As traffic congestion becomes more and more a nightmare in many cities, two wheels are a great alternative," Timoni said, pointing to their use in most European and Asian cities.

The company has gone so far to offer solutions that would get more people riding, ideas such as improving two-wheeler parking, relaxing licensing requirements, allowing lane-splitting and making car drivers more aware of bikes.

Piaggio is also expanding and improving its dealer network for the four brands, Timoni said. As of the end of February, there are 328 Piaggio/Vespa dealers, 170 Aprilia dealers and 130 Moto Guzzi dealers. One of the major objectives is rebuilding the presence of Aprilia and Moto Guzzi in the U.S. market.

"In each market we look for the best dealer for each brand," Timoni said. "In some situations, we can find a single dealer that is capable of carrying and developing two or three of our brands. In other situations, we need to appoint a different dealer for each brand."

And in certain cases the company is appointing automobile dealersihps as Piaggio/Vespa dealers. (Continued)