Emotional, technological Vespa

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Last week, Vespa Philippines debuted the Notte special edition series for its 150cc Vespa Sprint and 300cc Vespa GTS Super. The Notte (Italian for “night”) is rendered predominantly in black. The styling, according to a company release, “pairs the beautiful new opaque black of the chassis with numerous glossy black details, including the mirrors, the ornaments of the classic ‘tie’ on the front shield, the handlebar ends, the passenger handle and the extractable foot pegs of the GTS Super Notte.” In addition to these details are a dedicated saddle and plate with logo on the rear shield. Even the rims and muffler guard of the edition are rendered in glossy black.

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Before the nighttime (of course) launch, I got to talk at length to Gianluca Fiume, general director of Piaggio Vietnam and EVP for the company’s two-wheel business in the Asia Pacific region. He had swung by from Singapore and away from his Hanoi office to oversee the launch of the special model.

Hailing from Bolzano, Italy, Fiume is tall gentleman who has obviously taken tenets of Piaggio (and Vespa, one of the brands it controls) to heart. Italians, after all, are famously passionate people. “We must convey the DNA of our brands,” he declares. Linking these iconic names together are history – 130 years of Piaggio, 75 years of Vespa, and close to half a century of Moto Guzzi and Aprilia.

“These are marques that allow the user to distinguish himself or herself,” continued Fiume. At the crux are distinctly Italian design and heritage. The executive has a knack for describing the intangible and drilling down further than what lies on the surface. “Vespa is an icon – a fashion show on the street,” he begins. “Piaggio is commuting, Moto Guzzi is long riding, Aprilia is racing.”

Overseeing the Vietnamese market, and the larger Asia Pacific territory to which it belongs, is something of an aberration for conglomerates – which are typically are based in Singapore. “Eleven years ago, we set up our direct presence in Vietnam,” narrates Fiume. “We proudly built an engine plant and a vehicle development plan, along with a research and development center and department. At that time, our shareholders decided Vietnam to become the hub for all Asia Pacific markets. We consider that by doing this, we pioneer the market also (while) transcending the traditional business model. You rarely find companies that establish their own hub in Vietnam.”

The reasoning is sound. He avers, “The DNA of the Vietnamese market and economy. At the moment, Vietnam market is our cash cow. It is the number one; it is the fourth largest market for two-wheelers worldwide. And for Piaggio, it is the number-two market. Italy is still number one.”

Still, Fiume reveals that Piaggio is looking at making it the leading market for them in two years.

There’s just a fit between the riders there and Vespa. “The Vietnamese consumers and riders have a smarter and clear perception about the DNA of our brand… The Vietnamese rider is very sophisticated from a technical point of view.” Being there thus helps Vespa evolve functionally – changes that have been adopted worldwide because, well, they make sense.

Fiume talks about “a magic combination of software (intangibles that comprise the timeless appeal of Vespa) and hardware (technology as expressed in specs and features).” The perfect positioning, he maintains, is a 360-degree proposal which encompasses and conveys both the physical and ideological values that Vespa represents. He welcomes the challenges and demands of a fickle, discriminating market. “It is always stimulating us, and I’m always trying to learn from the situation.”

While being distinctly suffused with a rich and storied heritage, the Piaggio brands, he insists, embrace the challenge to “improve the riding experience through advanced two-wheel solutions.” Concludes Fiume, “That is the path we need to develop because it is very consistent with our DNA. We may not be leader of cost; we must be leader of price. I mean, we must be a value deliverer. Our brands are iconic in their own segments.”

Filipinos are sophisticated, knowledgeable riders as well, with more male bikers than females. The executive concedes that the traffic situation in Manila lends itself to greater prospects in terms of the motorcycle industry. Compared to the average European rider that is 47 years old, Asia Pacific customers average a young 31 years.

To this younger market, the Vespa stands as a luxury brand – a badge of honor that they’ve arrived at the scene.

“We are lucky because our brands are full of emotions. Therefore, I’m here to sell emotions. In order to sell emotion, every touchpoint of our business model formula must convey the best,” says Fiume. And at the very end at whichever market or demographic is the same goal. “We want to delight, entertain, wow our customer. It’s as simple as that.”

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