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Motorcycle News, Editorials, Product Reviews and Bike Reviews

MD Interviews Piaggio USA Boss Paolo Timoni

Last week, while attending the Cycle World International Motorcycle Show in Long Beach, we had the opportunity to speak with Paolo Timoni, President of Piaggio Group USA, and to ask him a few questions about the Piaggio Group brands. We found Paolo to be both extremely pleasant and extremely knowledgable about all the Piaggio Group’s activities. His answers revealed a few interesting things about the Piaggio Group brands and their future in the US market.

MD Is Aprilia planning to produce a motocross version of the SXV/RXV models?

PT Yes, basically the new off-road line will include the three products, the SXV, which is the supermoto, the RXV, which is the enduro, and then there will be the MXV, which is going to be the cross version. The supermoto and the enduro will be in production and in the United States in the first quarter of 2006, while for the cross version we are talking out the last quarter of ’06 or the first quarter of ’07.

MD Is Aprilia planning to produce a 250 motocross/enduro bike?

PT Yes, it’s in our product development plan, but probably we are 18 to 24 months away from that moment.

MD I don’t know if you know this yet, but are you planning to make that a single or is it going to be a twin?

PT That’s probably going to be a single.

MD This is what everyone wants to know – all of our readers: When is there going to be a sport bike using the 550 twin motor?

PT That is a very interesting idea that we are evaluating and discussing. There is no final decision as of today, but maybe something could happen very quickly as we hear more and more people asking for something like this.

MD If you do produce a bike like that, would you be selling it in the U.S.?

PT Yes, yes, because the North American market is a very important market. It’s a market on which the Piaggio Group has decided to put a lot of focus and efforts into, and so I think that that product would fit that market very well.

MD I think so too, actually. Is there a waiting list I could sign right now?

PT Do you have a deposit?


MD For 2005, how many units did Aprilia sell in the U.S. in 2005, approximately?

PT This year we are in the range of between 2,500 and 3,000 units, and as you can imagine 2005 has been more of a transition year for Aprilia – coming out of the crisis of 2004 and Aprilia’s position when it was bought by the Piaggio Group at the end of 2004; not that many new products have been introduced during ’05, and it’s only in the last quarter that we imported some new Caponords and some of the new Scarabeo scooters. Somehow – ’06 is the first year of the real launch of the Aprilia brand here in the States, and this is why you see that to prepare for this we have many new product introductions and then a completely different position in presentation of the brand.

MD Is Piaggio Group setting any short or long-term goals as far as U.S. unit sales for Aprilia?

PT Yes, we said 3% market share for Aprilia. This is what we shared with our dealers at our convention in Denver two weeks ago.

MD I have the same question about Moto Guzzi. How many units did Moto Guzzi sell in this country in 2005?

PT ’05 has been around 500 or 600 units, but I think that the potential for Moto Guzzi in this country is much larger than that. And here again basically, there has been no product introductions in ’05. It’s only now in December that we will be delivering the first of Breva 1100 to our dealers, and then starting from next year we have the Griso, the Norge, a new version of the California. So, many new product introductions for Moto Guzzi as well in ’06. So a year of the launch for Moto Guzzi again in 2006.

MD Are you planning a significant expansion of Moto Guzzi sales in this country?

PT Yes, yes. If the customer will agree with me. (laughs)

MD I think they will.

MD As far as the Norge, when is that going to be available in the U.S.?

PT Norge is going to be third quarter of ’06. So, basically we have first quarter ’06 will be the Breva 1100, second quarter will be the Griso 1100, third quarter will be both the Norge and the new California version with a Euro 3 compatible engine.

MD The Norge, from what we’ve seen, appears to feature a version of the older, air-cooled, two-valve motor, but with a larger displacement. What are the changes with that motor as far as design?

PT Well, in terms of the engine, there are no major changes, from 1100 to 1200. You know better than me that in order to do this no major changes are required. I think that what will distinguish the Norge is more in the vehicle design, and it’s trying to appeal to the touring segment, with more protection, more storage space, and so it’s basically an evolution of the Breva 1100 into a touring bike.

MD As far as Moto Guzzi, it seems that Moto Guzzi has been kind of a niche brand in the U.S., in kind of a small market segment, and it’s been more appealing to a buyer that’s looking for a traditional, almost a retro-style bike. Do you have . . . are you planning to just kind of stick with what Moto Guzzi is doing right now, or are you planning to introduce different of models that might expand the brand’s appeal?

PT I think that there are some changes in the position of the Moto Guzzi brand, and those are already quite apparent if you look at the Griso 1100. So, you can say many things about the Griso, but it certainly is not a retro look kind of bike. And so I think as a new position that Moto Guzzi is looking at riders who are more interested into the leisure – so it is never maximizing the performance or exaggerating the technical component of the bikes, but it’s more into the pleasure of riding, bikes that are going to be easy to ride, and in some of the design Moto Guzzi will maintain some of the vintage looking motors, but will also introduce many more modern and youth-oriented designs.

MD Now, going back to Aprilia, when can we expect to see an Aprilia factory superbike effort in World Superbike?

PT That is probably going to be a couple of years ahead of us. I think that the strategy for this brand is, first of all, to establish the company and somehow stabilize their position in the traditional sport bike segment. A lot of effort is going into the new off-road products and so, for example, for this market in ’06 all the major activities will be about introducing Aprilia in this new segment. As you know, to go back to superbike you need to reach the very leading edge of performance which requires the development of some new engines, and unfortunately that takes longer than 12 months, so we have to do the engineering work before being able to go back to that place.

MD If you are going back eventually to World Superbike, would you also be planning to race in AMA Superbike competition?

PT No, no plan has been made as of today. I think that we are very well aware that racing in Europe is important and has a meaning for this market as well, but at the same time the United States has its own racing community and is focused on the local racing activities. It’s important to establish a full credibility and to maximize our feeling for the U.S. customer.

MD Do you think that when Aprilia does make a return to Superbike racing, will they be racing a v-twin 1000, or will it be more likely to be a new four-cylinder motor?

PT As I said, you know, there is not a distinct plan as of today, and most of the engineering is still ongoing. I think that what is interesting to ask is that for us racing is not only superbike, and there is a big possibility that you will see us racing here in the United States in Supermoto next year. So, really from ’06 we will be back into AMA racing, possibly in the Supermoto class. We will see how it goes, and then from there we will try to expand.

MD Is the v-twin 450 legal for the AMA Supermoto 450 class?

PT This is one of the things that is still under discussion. AMA Pro Racing hasn’t taken a final position. They are debating and reviewing it. As you know, these things required this sort of consensus, the constituencies that, you know, there is a large number of constituencies that have to review this. We are positive. We have seen that in Europe all the different organizations have found a way to accommodate it. Our understanding is that the fans and the people that have an interest in this racing are really looking forward to Aprilia presence, and so I am confident that we’ll find a way to make it happen.

MD If you can’t race the 450 in the 450 class, will you definitely race the AMA Open class?

PT That could be another possibility. We are going to look into all the possible options in order to race in Supermoto here in the United States. It is our understanding that there might be some new initiatives going on and so we are having an open dialog with multiple players to do as much as we can.

MD Okay, finally, stepping away from racing and back to street models. The large displacement scooter category seems to be a growing market in the U.S. I just wanted to see how you and Piaggo Group feel about that, and if you are planning to release more products to compete in that category in coming years.

PT I think that we, Vespa and Piaggo, in ’05, we have positioned our lines to be fully competitive in this emergent and expanding scooter segment. You know, Piaggo [and Vespa have] the LX150, the BV 200, the new GTS 250 that we are going to present today. During ’05, we introduced the BV250 and 500. Those were new product introductions, and so we think we have all the products to be very competitive in that segment. On the Aprilia side, we’ve, in the last quarter of this year, we introduced the new Scarabeo 250 and 500, and so we are very well positioned to compete with Aprilia as well in that segment. So we think that it is an important scooter segment, which is the one which is going to grow in this market, and we have a very competitive product line to be there.

MD All right, Paulo, that about exhausts all the questions that I have. Thanks for taking the time to talk to us.

PT Thank you, it was my pleasure to meet with you.

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