Piaggio is the Italian aircraft manufacturer that brought 16 million Vespa scooters into the world starting in 1946. Scooters were inexpensive, easy to use and seen as cute and chic.
Today, Piaggio also owns Aprilia and Moto Guzzi, and in 2011, it delivered 100,000 two-wheelers of all kinds. Because it intends to remain in business in a fast-changing world, Piaggio is touring its design and marketing people through Vietnam, India and the U.S., where the company is opening an Advanced Design Center.
I had the opportunity of conversation with Miguel Galluzzi, the Argentine-born VP of Design for Piaggio who will head the design center. I asked Galluzzi if Europe and the U.S. are becoming irrelevant as Asia becomes the new future of world business. He replied, “I think the world becomes the future, not just Asia. If you want to see what our cities will become in 10 years, when energy is more expensive, you must go to Vietnam, to India. There, people need mobility very much but must be clever and versatile to get what they need. Electronic communication has aligned young people there with what is happening in the rest of the world.”
Galluzzi said that Piaggio’s planned design center in Pasadena will benefit from the many different peoples and cultures that now make up California. It is no longer enough to design comfortably within one’s own “landlocked” culture. It is essential to be jolted out of the usual and traditional by traveling and seeing at first hand the world’s changing needs and tastes. Europe’s separate cultures stop this from taking place.
I asked Galluzzi if motorcycles as they are today are too narrowly focused to appeal to a wide market. Might there be other kinds of two-wheeled vehicles that would appeal to non-motorcyclists?
“You have said something there,” he replied. “We began with the simple fun of On Any Sunday and went on to something much narrower.”
Galluzzi seemed to be saying that focusing motorcycles as a testosterone challenge had sucked much of the fun (and many potential buyers) out of motorcycling. I remembered the 1960s song whose words said: “It’s not a big motorcycle; just a groovy little motorbike.”
Today, motorcycles have again become “big” in that same sense, and not everyone interested in convenient transportation finds that “groovy.”
The task of design is first to create a useful, affordable product that fills a need and is convenient to use. It must also, Galluzzi said, “Become an object you just have to have.” The cute VW Beetle and the original BMC Mini are historic and successful examples. He suggests the new 946 scooter as a candidate, a modern take on the timeless Vespa concept.
Galluzzi also noted that young people in the U.S. are riding motorcycles, but they are often used machines because new prices are so high. “The problem is money,” he said, “but people still have to move around—to work, to shop, to be together. This is true in the U.S., in Europe, in Asia.”
New designs must recognize this. Whoever best solves this puzzle with a range of attractive two-wheelers will gather large numbers of customers. Italian design has a special attraction worldwide—it has shown an ability to command a 20-30 percent price premium over generic competition. That edge is worth sustained design effort.