Since we broke the pricing on the upcoming Vespa 946, the seemingly stratospheric price has been the main part of the conversation. At $9,946 USD, the 946 is a 125cc scooter in the same price range as 650cc maxi-scooters like the Suzuki Burgman or the BMW C-series scooters. It’s been tough for a lot of scooter fans to make the connection between a small (if remarkable) scooter and such a big price tag.
It would be easy to assume that Vespa is simply cashing in on their iconic name, or that by making the 946 in small numbers, they’re counting on the same market of people who off-handedly buy Maseratis and $1,000 hand bags. Maybe they are, but I’d wager that the truth is much closer to purity of the 946 design. Keep in mind that the Vespa 946 is already a unicorn. It’s a bonkers motor show concept vehicle that’s actually being put into production.
I think that’s the key phrase in this discussion: production. Taking any physical product to market is a decidedly difficult and costly task. The purity of any industrial design must usually be tempered (or put another way, watered down) with the realities of production methods and costs. You have to design a component in a certain way when you’re going to make 100,000 of them in a row in a cost-effective manner. OEMs also have to compromise on materials and complexity. If every car on the road were made of carbon fiber, they’d be more fuel efficient, and they’d also cost an order of magnitude more to produce. Material and production costs are one of the reasons Vespas already cost more than their Taiwanese and Japanese counterparts.
In the case of the Vespa 946, production is not only limited, it’s going to be largely done by hand. That’s what Vespa is demonstrating in the video above, as well as a whole section on their website. Pieces are hand fit. Details are hand sewn and hand set. This will be a bike not simply assembled, but crafted.
Beyond the hand made aspects of production, the Vespa 946 utilizes a handful of key aluminum components. Working with this material over steel or plastic is more labor intensive and has higher material costs. Yet the weight savings and premium feel over what would otherwise be plastic parts is going to help make the case for the 946′s price tag.
In the end, it’s going to be up to the individual buyer whether or not all this hand-crafted workmanship is worth the substantial price premium. In seeing the details, I think that this is a perfect case study of the true market cost of a premium product. When you don’t cut corners on labor or materials, and when you commit to delivering an uncompromising design vision, things get expensive. I’ve long wondered if there was a Ferrari-like place in the scooter market. Is there a place for something hand made, using premium materials, oozing with sexy design details, and asking a premium price? Looks like Vespa is about to find out.
What about you? What’s your definition of value when you go scooter shopping. Is cheaper better? Do you always get what you pay for in a more expensive bike? Sound off in the comments below.