Stefano Pelle, managing director of Piaggio Vehicles, speaks to our sister publication Autocar Professional about bringing the Aprilia brand to India, expanding both the premium Motoplex stores and Vespa sales network, and also bringing the Moto Guzzi V9 Bobber and Roamer cruisers to this part of the world.
The Aprilia SR 150, the first product from the brand, will be locally manufactured at PVPL’s plant in Baramati, Maharashtra. Is the SR 150 straight from your global portfolio or is it designed for India?
It’s both. It already exists internationally but has been adapted for India with specific requirements that we have got from the consumer. When we showed the scooter, we received a very good consumer response. Secondly, the engine is our engine. It’s not some part that we are importing from somewhere.
Is the 150cc engine in the Aprilia SR 150 the same unit that powers the Vespa 150 scooters?
Yes, but it is tuned differently. The transmission is also tuned differently. It (Aprilia SR 150) shares a lot with the Vespa 150 models.
Will the Aprilia SR 150 be made on Vespa’s assembly line at the Baramati plant or is a different production line being set-up for the Aprilia scooter?
It will be made in the same factory but not necessarily on the same assembly line. We are in the process of setting up an all-new assembly line for the new Aprilia scooter. We have not yet built an actual scooter model here so far. The first scooter is expected to come out within a couple of weeks.
So the first batch of production scooters is expected to roll out in March? When will mass production begin?
Yes, the first batch is expected in March and the mass production will begin in July 2016. The commercial launch is scheduled for August later this year.
Since the Aprilia SR 150 will be yet another premium scooter from Piaggio, do you see any brand cannibalisation between this model and the Vespa 150 models already on sale?
I don’t see any brand cannibalisation between Aprilia’s SR 150 and Vespa’s existing 150 models. The segments are completely different. Though they both belong to the premium segment, Vespa is more of a style statement and the Aprilia SR 150 is a sporty, stylish scooter which would certainly appeal to the youth.
Unlike Vespa, which has a wider targeted age group, we will target the age group of 18-28 years with the Aprilia SR 150. Now although the core target customers remain the same for the Vespa brand, it is also bought by customers in their late 20s or even 30s. That said, the Vespa models are universal and the Aprilia SR 150 is more male.
This (Aprilia) would also appeal to buyers who today use a bike and might want to use a scooter tomorrow. The Aprilia SR 150 is not as bulky as the regular scooters you see on the Indian roads. This is a relatively very sleek, slim, stylish scooter which is equipped with good power with utility space for storage too.
What price range should we expect for the SR 150?
What would you expect? (laughs). All I can tell you is that it will be a premium scooter but it will be priced competitively in context to the Vespa models.
Piaggio’s global annual report mentions India as one of its key markets for future growth. The plan to roll out the Aprilia SR 150 is absolutely in line with that. What strategy are you chalking out to make this work?
Correct. Our primary focus is on setting up a decent network, which is increasing as per our plans. By the time the Aprilia SR 150 will hit the roads, our distribution network would have considerably grown. At the same time even the Motoplex stores will grow. We have recently opened our flagship (Motoplex) store in Pune, and we have three more Motoplex stores lined up in cities such as Hyderabad, Kochi and Chennai. These three new stores will come up over the next two months. Then some more will come later.
Is this a strategic move to focus more on the southern region first?
Yes, as of today our focus is on the southern and western regions for scooters. However, we also want to expand to the rest of the country. We want to first have our Motoplex stores in markets where we see good demand. But that does not mean that we can afford to not be present in Delhi or Mumbai.
How come there is no Motoplex store in Mumbai, the commercial capital of the country?
It will come. You see when you appoint a dealer you need to have a certain kind of relationship with him. But when you appoint a dealer for a Motoplex store, you need to be very sure that you are doing the right thing. This is because we are very particular about the Motoplex stores around the world.
What would be your key priorities for 2016?
Setting up the distribution and the launch of the Aprilia scooter. I would say that it would go hand-in-hand. To launch this scooter on the road, we have to increase our distribution. Vespa, on the other hand, continues to be our main brand, so that remains our priority.
As of today our network is around 80 dealers (concentrated towards the southern and western markets). We are looking at having up to 40 percent more dealerships (32) by end-2016.
Do you plan to bring new products under the Vespa brand?
Yes. We are looking at bringing the Vespa limited edition. We plan to bring the Vespa 300GTS and the Vespa 946, which will come as completely built units (CBUs). They will come by the second quarter of the ongoing calendar year.
Is the company looking to bring the Moto Guzzi V9 (Bobber and Roamer) cruisers to India?
Yes, they will also be brought to India as CBUs, most likely this year. The Moto Guzzi V9 cruisers are not launched yet. Their global launch is scheduled within a few months’ time. (The company had showcased V9 cruisers at the 2016 Auto Expo as production-ready models.) The Moto Guzzi V9 is an all-new line-up of cruisers with light, nimble handling. They will be powered by the 850cc powertrain, which is considered to be a medium size engine. The V9 motorcycles will be positioned below the bigger Moto Guzzi models such as the California.
What is the status of the CKD operations (for assembling Aprilia and Moto Guzzi motorcycles) at the Baramati plant?
The moment we press the button, it won’t take too long to get it done. But as of today it is not really our first priority. We have a factory here and it can be done easily. However, the focus of the company today is on the scooters.
What do you think about the awareness of the Aprilia brand in India? In your global portfolio, you have a number of midsized motorcycles under the Aprilia brand. Given the outstanding growth in the midsized motorcycle market in India, are you not considering bringing a few of those models here?
I knew that the people in India, those who ride, would know about the Aprilia brand. But frankly the awareness about the Aprilia brand here is higher than what we had anticipated. That said, it still remains a brand that needs to be developed.
Yes, we are evaluating (bringing in) midsized Aprilia motorcycles. It is still in the study phase where we try to understand what could be the different segments where we should be. The perception of midsized motorcycles in India is the ones with engine displacement of 300cc-500cc. This is something which could be interesting for us in the future