Electric Vespa may ride into India

Murali Gopalan | Updated on: Oct 25, 2018

Piaggio Chief makes it clear that infrastructure should be in place first

Diego Graffi’s face lights up when the talk veers around to electric mobility.

“Electric is seeing a lot of discussions in India both for scooters and cars. I see a positive environment for people like us to do something. We are ready with the technology and just started production of Vespa electric in Italy,” says the CEO and MD of Piaggio Vehicles India.

Sales of the Vespa Elettrica, as it is called, will begin in Europe next month, followed by the US and then Asia beginning 2019. The scooter has a maximum range of 100 km. To recharge the battery, the rider simply plugs the cable located in the compartment below the saddle into a normal electric wall socket or into any recharging point in a city.

“We are studying what could be the evolution here in India and I am quite optimistic. Batteries are critical for growth and market research is telling us that costs will go down in the coming years,” continues Graffi.

When that happens, the sky is the limit for electric scooters though there is a lot of work ahead. The Indian Government is keen on e-mobility but there are practical realities to be dealt with in availability of charging stations as well as fiscal sops to manufacturers/customers.

Graffi agrees that the landscape needs to get a lot clearer. While the company is definitely looking at the electric Vespa for India, he reiterates that it can be launched only when things are in place.

“The product and technology is available already and Piaggio is proud of it but there are two things to do in parallel to make the business model viable: Infrastructure for charging and cost of batteries,” adds Graffi.

It is only when these two come together will there be ”fast growth” for electric scooters. From his point of view, Vespa is just not about design and styling but also innovation and technology. Yet, it is still a marginal brand in India especially against the overwhelming presence of the Honda Activa, TVS Jupiter, and Suzuki Access.

Graffi is quick to remind you about the other brand, Aprilia, which is an integral part of the Piaggio India stable. “We are not measuring ourselves in terms of market share but customer perception of the brand and what they tell us, their riding experience and so on,” he says.

Graffi is also quick to admit that a lot more can be done for Vespa and Aprilia whose potential is “immense across the world”. Right now, there are 200 touch points across the country, which is nearly three times higher than the level 18 months ago.

Ashish Yakhmi, Head of Piaggio’s Two-Wheeler business, is equally upbeat about the road ahead for these two brands. “The customer’s mindset is changing in terms of buying premium products, especially scooters,” he says. According to him, both brands have a distinct positioning and customers seeking an Aprilia will not opt for a Vespa and vice-versa.

According to Graffi, Vespa is a product for everybody in the family. Aprilia is meant for someone seeking a more sophisticated riding experience. Both brands are premium and aspirational but still different in terms of riding experience.

Graffi says Piaggio is keen on developing the two brands, whose combined sales hover around 9,000 units a month. Yet, he stresses, the priority is not “big sales volumes” but to give the customer a “unique riding experience”.

Network expansion will become an important part of the growth story. Yakhmi then narrates the story of a “dealer prospect” from Sagar, a small town in Madhya Pradesh and not too far away from Bhopal. “He convinced us that there is good business there for premium brands like ours,” he says.

The present network is largely in cities but Piaggio is keen on penetrating smaller metros and bigger towns. “What we see is that there are buyers here whose mindset is premium and they see value in (premium) brands,” observes Yakhmi.

What about Motoplex, the premium brand store that is present only in a handful of cities with Bengaluru being the latest to join the list? “The Motoplex ambience is different and it is a different experience. It is a winning concept, which we would like to expand across India though we need to be specific,” says Graffi.

The big advantage in these premium stores is the availability of super/sport bikes from Moto Guzzi and Aprilia in addition to the Vespa range. They also see 20 per cent higher sales than regular dealerships because the experience is much better.

“This is a reminder that people want the premium experience, which goes beyond product. They like to be treated well and pampered. This is the experience which we like to extend elsewhere,” explains Yakhmi.

Graffi agrees that it makes business sense to sell superbikes from regular dealerships except that “this should be done at the right time backed by the right strategy”.

Published on October 25, 2018
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