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Rumor Denied: Plastic Fiber Vespa LX for India?

Mar 13 • Opinion, Rumor, Vespa • 760 Views • 9 Comments

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[Piaggio has since denied this rumor. See the update at the end of the post.]

Indian car and bike blog Overdrive is reporting that the country’s Piaggio subsidiary is planning a new, lower-cost version of the Vespa LX featuring a plastic fiber body instead of the trademark monocoque steel construction. Though commercial vehicle sales in India have been an increasingly large chunk of  Piaggio Group’s global sales, the market for the Vespa brand, re-launched there last year, has started to cool. This was first addressed by a price reduction for the flagship LX model (Vespa’s only offering in the country).

In their outlook for 2013 and beyond (from their 2012 financial statements), Piaggio Group stated they intend to “accelerate sales on the Indian scooter market, a high-growth market where the Group began operations in the spring of 2012 with the introduction of the Vespa premium brand, in part through the expansion of the sales network and the enhancement of the product offer…” The rumored plastic LX could be part of the latter effort.

According to Overdrive, the new LX would cost INR 50,000, which by today’s exchange rate is approximately $920 USD and would represent a price drop of $200. These prices may seem fantastically low to US and European buyers, but these scooters will be produced in India solely for that market and costs are rarely comparable between countries due to various taxes, fees and regulations. The rumored price point is actually competitive with Honda’s scooter offerings in the country. Honda also manufactures in India but unlike Vespa has a product line completely different than what’s available in other countries.

What does this mean for the rest of the world? Not much, probably. But it’s interesting to see that the company would be willing to sacrifice one of the hallmarks of the brand — the steel body — in order to be more competitive in a fast-growing market and increase their market share.

It also calls into question whether we’ll see Vespa’s 946-influenced successor to the LX this year, as rumored. A plastic fiber version would require many structural changes to create an internal frame. If the rumor proves true, we have to wonder if this version of the LX will continue to be produced and sold in India after being replaced elsewhere in the world, if the next-generation mid-displacement Vespa may not be unveiled in 2013, or if the LX’s successor isn’t as radical a design change as some have claimed.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the new LX would have a fiberglass body. Sources in India are reporting either "fibre" or "plastic fibre," which is more likely than fiberglass.]

Update, 4/2/2013:

Piaggio issued an official statement after our original post denying the rumor of a plastic/fiber, lower-cost Vespa in India. The media release states:

Piaggio set out to create the luxury segment with the launch of the Vespa LX 125 in India in April 2012. The information on Vespa unveiling a fibre body variant and reducing price to Rs 50,000/- is untrue.

What remains true, however, is that they’ve delayed plans to launch a lower-priced line of Piaggio branded scooters in India. Their focus in the country remains commercial vehicles and the Vespa line.

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  • Orin

    Gosh, where to start? The linked article cites exactly zero sources for its claim. Yes, Piaggio lowered the price of the Indian LX, which most likely means they guessed too high setting the initial price. They’re in a new market, with a new product… some tweaking is to be expected.

    Yes, Piaggio’s recent release of its 2012 financials mentions Indian LX sales of just 26,000 for the last seven months of 2012, but again, a new product launch in a new market, and maybe the dealer network isn’t completely up and running yet. See FIAT; CEO Sergio Marchione said in a video interview that if he had it to do over, he’d have waited a year. Maybe Piaggio should’ve done likewise.

    As for marketing, a 180-degree shift from premium product to cheap commodity would be a bigger disaster than just hanging on for a while longer. Fiberglass? That stuff is much more difficult (therefore expensive) to work with than the injection-molded plastics scooter bodies are typically made of.

    It would be no trouble at all for Piaggio to hang Vespa-like plastic body panels on, say, a Typhoon 125 and call it a Vespa. They could sell a functional equivalent of a Honda Metropolitan or Yamaha Vino Classic and few potential customers would be bothered by this. Or maybe they will. OTOH, I can always hope someone at Piaggio might consider my suggestion, which would be hugely profitable for both parties, go a long way to soak up the 300,000-unit production capacity of the Indian factory, and grow the scooter market in the U.S., which would benefit not only Piaggio but everyone else in the biz.

    I’m not holding my breath…

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Well that’s why it’s called a rumor ;-)

      • http://www.facebook.com/orinoneill Orin O’Neill

        So why are you reporting rumors?

  • ericalm

    After looking at other Indian news sources, I’ve corrected story; the material is most likely plastic fiber not fiberglass. Overdrive, the original source, which most other reports cite, states simply “fibre.” 

  • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

    I’m skeptical about this simply from an engineering perspective. The shape of something is not unrelated to its method of manufacture. There’s a significant development cost that would go into doing the engineering and creating the tooling for directly converting an LX to tupperware. They’d be more or less creating an entirely new scooter and paying all of those development costs, simply to save money on materials? That, on a bike that would be the lowest margin scooter in the fleet; meaning that it’d have to sell in large quantities in order to be profitable. I’m skeptical. Doesn’t mean the won’t do it, but I can’t see it working out too well.

    An alternative would be a composite monocoque out of fiberglass or CF, but that’s moving in the wrong direction, price wise. That said, I kinda want to try building that…

    • ericalm

      It just brings to mind the tubular-framed Chinese LX “clones.” Are they really going to build that but fill it with Vespa parts?

      • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

        Exactly.

  • Clawbrant

    A cheaper Vespa with a plastic body? Isn’t that just a Piaggio?

    • http://www.nathanielsalzman.com/ Nathaniel Salzman

      Exactly.

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