By Kap Maceda Aguila
SEVENTY-five-year-old scooter brand Vespa has long reached iconic status around the world for its distinctive design and performance. One of seven mobility companies owned by Piaggio & Co. SpA, the brand has never shied away from evolving.
This and more we gleaned from our exclusive interview with Gianluca Fiume, general director of Piaggio Vietnam and executive vice-president for the company’s two-wheel business in Asia Pacific, who on Feb. 21 was in Manila to introduce the Notte variants of Vespa Sprint and GTS. Mr. Fiume talks about “a magic combination of software and hardware” which come together in every Vespa product.
A perfect positioning 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.”
This is exactly the case with the special edition Notte variants of the 150cc Vespa Sprint and 300cc Vespa GTS Super. The Italian word for “night,” the Notte is rendered predominantly in black and “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.
The Hanoi, Vietnam-based Mr. Fiume said these special editions show that the brand is not averse to change, and that it listens to its customers. Vespa embraces the challenge to “improve the riding experience through advanced two-wheel solutions.”
Though it would probably be easier for the scooter brand and its siblings to rest on their laurels and simply trot out formulaic releases, the executive talks of an inevitable march forward — while never losing sight of what makes the marques click. “We must convey [their] DNA,” he declared. “Vespa is an icon — a fashion show on the street. . . Piaggio is commuting, Moto Guzzi is long riding, Aprilia is racing.” Linking these names together are history — 130 years of Piaggio, 75 years of Vespa, and close to half a century of Moto Guzzi and Aprilia.
Overseeing the Vietnamese market and the larger Asia Pacific territory to which it belongs is also about defying expectations. Typically, the regional headquarters of large brands are located in places such as Singapore. “Eleven years ago, we set up our direct presence in Vietnam,” related Fiume. “We proudly built an engine plant and a vehicle development plan, along with 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.”
Then again, the country ranks second overall in Vespa’s market — surpassed only by Italy itself. But owing to its growth potential, Mr. Fiume predicts Vietnam to eventually assume sales leadership in two years.
He observed a clear fit between the Vietnamese riders and the brand. The executive sees them as “sophisticated from a technical point of view,” and the company actually leverages the learnings it derives from being in such a dynamic market. Being there thus helps Vespa evolve functionally — changes that have been adopted worldwide because, well, they make sense.
Filipinos are sophisticated, knowledgeable riders as well, with more males at the handlebars. And just as one would correctly guess, the onerous traffic situation in Manila lends itself to greater prospects in terms of industry prospects.
Overall, the Asia-Pacific market has a young and growing population base which also augurs well for companies doing business here. Mr. Fiume shared that the average European rider is 47 years old; compare that to Asia-Pacific customers averaging 31 years. And 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,” said 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.”
The Italians would be first to agree that Vespa is about delivering value and emotions; moving both the physical person as well as stirring his or her passion.