New Delhi: Long before Hamara Bajaj became the two- wheeler of the Indian middle class family, and bikes became the symbol of the Indian male’s masculinity, it was the Vespa that romanced our roads. And now after a gap of almost 13 years, the iconic scooter is back.
Italian auto company Piaggio, has announced that it plans to launch the Vespa 125 cc in the Indian market by March. “We are trying to create a luxury lifestyle brand in the scooter segment,” said Ravi Chopra, chairman and managing director, Piaggio Vehicles, India.
In the first phase of distribution, the company plans to make the scooter available in 35 towns through 50 dealers. Piaggio is yet to reveal the price of the two- wheeler, but speculations are that it will cost around Rs 70,000. This venture will also mark the first time that Piaggio is launching a vehicle in India without a local partner. Between 1961 and 1971, Bajaj auto limited produced the Vespa. After a brief gap, it reappeared on Indian roads in 1983, in partnership with LML as the LML Vespa. That venture terminated in 1999.
A bit of history for those who are unaware of how the Vespa became a phenomenon:
Piaggio rolled out its first Vespa in 1946. There were two- wheelers in that era, but Piaggio gave the world its first civilized scooter- it had a mud guard and the rider could sit on it in an upright position.
Four years later, Vespa made its movie debut in the Italian flick Sunday in August. But it really became a Hollywood star when Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn maneuvered a Vespa 125 through the Rome traffic in the 1953 classic Roman Holiday. Since then, the Vespa has featured in countless movies.
Dear Diary, the 1993 film has a sequence titled “In Vespa' - on the saddle of a 150 Sprint". In Alfie (2004), Jude Law wides a blue and white Vespa through the streets of Manhattan, while Nicole Kidman hops on a yellow Vespa in Sydney Pollack's The Interpreter (2005)
But the Vespa is also a Bollywood star! Back home, we saw Minnisha Laamba pllion riding a Vespa with Ranbir Kapoor in Bachna Ae Haseeno (2008). With 150 models, Vespa has a presence in 35 countries.
Both, Bajaj and LML made modifications to the core Vespa design to suit the Indian market,” said Sunny Anand of Vespabretta, a Delhi based company that restores vintage Vespas. Anand added that what can work in favour of the Vespa in the current scenario is that “It has been a decade since the scooter (Vespa) vanished. The gap has erased the baggage. The product and the target customer are different now.” Commenting on the Vespa’s grand return to India however, Chopra said, “This is the Vespa in its true form. This is the version available in Europe". “
However, a lot has changed in India since the Vespa’s LML days.
Currently, scooters comprise only around 20 percent of the two-wheeler market in India. Scooters in India fall into two broad categories- utilitarian and feminine. While Bajaj (the company stopped making scooters in late 2009) and Honda (Eterno and Activa) belong to the former category, scooties by Bajaj and Kinetic target female customers such as working professionals and college goers.
The bike market however, is more evolved in terms of range and clearly defined segments. Lately, the ‘bike is masculine and scooter is feminine’ theory has got resonance. The machoism is translating into robust bike sales.
“I believe Vespa will create its own new segment, the way Bajaj Pulsar did in 2001. It attracted buyers from various categories,” said Ramesh Joshi, a Vespa enthusiast.
Another challenge for Vespa can be the fact that unlike Europe which has Vespa clubs and rallies, there is no scooter culture in India.
“This time, the effort will be to position Vespa as a fashion statement and not just a utility vehicle. It will be about the experience of owning a Vespa. Or, let us say, belonging to the Vespa community,” Chopra said.
Bike maniacs might think twice before shelling out around Rs 70, 000 to belong to the Vespa family, but as Joshi, a Vespa enthusiast put it. “Bajaj, LML, Honda and Kintetic have all produced scooters. But a Vespa is a Vespa.”