A COMPANY WHOSE NAME HAS GONE DOWN IN ITALIAN AND WORLD INDUSTRIAL HISTORY. AN UNINTERRUPTED COMMITMENT TO RESEARCH AND TECHNOLOGICAL INNOVATION. ROBERTO COLANINNO: “WE HAVE THE STRENGTH OF A GREAT BRAND PORTFOLIO OFFERING SOLUTIONS FOR ALL MARKET SEGMENTS AND OPENING THE WAY FOR NEW CATEGORIES, FORMS AND AREAS OF MOBILITY”
2015 marks the 130th anniversary of the Piaggio Group, which was established at the end of December 1884. Two other major milestones follow close behind: in 2016, the Group will celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Vespa (patented on 23 April 1946 and put immediately into production) and the 95th anniversary of Moto Guzzi, founded in 1921 in the legendary factory in Mandello del Lario, where the “Eagle Brand” facilities and production lines are still located today. “Today the Piaggio Group boasts a range of extraordinary brands, each of which represents a different way of achieving the highest levels of quality and technology," says Group chairman and CEO Roberto Colaninno. "We have the strength of a great brand portfolio, offering solutions for all market segments and opening the way for new categories, forms and areas of mobility. And with the launch of the Piaggio Fast Forward project in the Group’s 130th year of activity, we have taken on the mission of thinking for the future, of designing and producing solutions that combine distinctive style with cutting-edge technology, to improve the way people travel in the future and also their quality of life.”
PFF, from left: Roberto Colaninno, Sasha Hoffman, Jeffrey Schnapp, Nicholas Negroponte, Beth Altringer, Gregg Lynn, Doug Brent, Jeff Linnell
The wealth of brands in the Piaggio Group portfolio, each with its own mission, prestigious heritage and distinctive style and technical features, is reflected in the large stand organised by the Group for the EICMA 2015 motor show, on which this issue of Wide provides extensive coverage. The two-wheeler brands are flanked by Piaggio commercial vehicles, in three- and four-wheel model ranges.
BEGINNINGS: SHIPS, TRAINS, AIRCRAFT, RADIAL ENGINES. The Piaggio company was established in Sestri Ponente, Genoa’s industrial district, at the end of 1884, by Rinaldo Piaggio (the son of Enrico, owner of a modern mechanised woodworking plant); the Piaggio carpenters produced the fittings for the finest Italian and foreign ships built at the end of the century. The company then expanded into railcar construction, at the time a more innovative sector with important growth prospects. Subsequently, with the opening up of the new frontier of aeronautics, from 1917 Piaggio workers began building aircraft wings and fuselage. Looking for a new site, Rinaldo took over a Pisa-based company and set down Piaggio’s first roots in Tuscany. The end of the First World War brought severe economic repercussions as the reconversion from war production to a peacetime economy took a heavy toll. The Piaggio company did not suffer unduly, however, or at least much less than other companies active in mechanics. Piaggio’s diversified production in the various fields of transport protected it from the impact of the postwar crises. It made rapid and significant progress in railway construction, taking important orders on both the domestic and the international market, including the construction of the “royal train” in the early 1920s and the manufacture of electrically powered trains whose design and steel weldings, based on original Piaggio research and patents, gave them a “futuristic” look. This was followed by production of the P2 (Piaggio 2) fighter monoplane, the first of a long series that included highlights such as the P7 – the Piaggio racing hydroplane – and the four-engine P 108, the last great Italian plane built before the Second World War.
A STORY OF CREATIVITY AND INNOVATION. Having identified a new business opportunity in aircraft engine production, in 1924 Rinaldo bought Costruzione Meccaniche Nazionali, a small workshop based in Pontedera that had been started up before the war by the engine section of the local agrarian consortium. Pontedera continued to produce aircraft engines, and within a few years had been joined by a number of expert engineers, notably Corradino d’Ascanio (1891- 1981), a gifted inventor from Popoli, in the Abruzzo region, who developed the variable-speed propeller as soon as he began working at Piaggio (1934). Corradino d’Ascanio is famous as the inventor of the helicopter; he held the flight duration and altitude record (1930) for years, at a time when the helicopter was unknown.
The story of Piaggio is a story of creativity, of technical objects conceived by innovative talent. In 1938, Rinaldo Piaggio died; production in the company’s four cutting-edge factories in Liguria and Tuscany was worth more than 160 million lire. His two sons split the business: Enrico took over responsibility for the Tuscan factories in Pisa and Pontedera, while Armando took charge of the facilities in Sestri and Finale Ligure. The company continued to grow and its advanced technology in both engine and aeronautical production reaped rewards: between 1937 and 1939, Piaggio radial engines set 21 records, including altitude (17,083 metres) with the PXI piston engine on the Caproni 161, piloted by Colonel Mario Pezzi. In this period, in addition to trains, naval fittings, aircraft and aircraft engines, Piaggio was building lorries, trams, buses, funicular railcars, and aluminium door and window frames, often reaching levels of excellence as with its 21 engine records or the famous P108 aircraft.
CORRADINO D’ASCANIO: DRAWING THE VESPA
Video’s English translation, the engineer Corradino d’Ascanio is speaking about his draw of the Vespa scooter: “I put a mudguard below the seat to cover the wheel… I aligned the steering column with the front wheel, automatically the scooter takes shape. Another new feature was to provide wheels that could be taken off, not in the same way as normal motorcycle wheels (which are mounted on a fork with a cross axle, so if you have a puncture you have pull out the axle, dismantle and remove the wheel). Whereas here the system is similar to that widely used on aeroplane undercarriages, where the wheels are cantilevered, so they can be taken off, as easily as on an automobile”.
DEBUT OF THE VESPA, A WORLDWIDE SUCCESS. With the end of the Second World War, Armando Piaggio slowly resumed aeronautical production and the manufacture of naval and rail fittings in the Ligurian plants, while Enrico was looking for a completely new business direction; his ambition was to help Italy overcome its postwar transport difficulties. He ventured into the complexities of Italian reconstruction with a specific idea: to build a simple, low-cost means of transport that would consume very little and could be ridden by men and women alike. In the Piedmontese town of Biella, where Piaggio had relocated its Pontedera production lines during the war, the company engineers had been building a small scooter: the MP5, nicknamed Paperino – Donald Duck – for its unusual shape. During a trip to Biella accompanied by Corradino d’Ascanio, Enrico Piaggio saw the Paperino: he liked the idea of a small vehicle, but was not convinced by its design. So he gave d’Ascanio a few weeks to come up with a new design for a nimble general-purpose vehicle. D’Ascanio was an aeronautical engineer (and a professor at Pisa University’s engineering faculty) and took up the scooter challenge. He did not like motorcycles; he thought they were uncomfortable, limited in use due to the difficulty of changing a tyre, and dirty because of the chain transmission. He came up with a completely different vehicle. Within a few weeks, he had designed a two-wheeler with a load-bearing body, a 98 cc engine, a direct-drive system, the gear change on the handlebar for easy riding, no fork but a side stand to facilitate tyre changing in the event of a puncture. The scooter frame protected the rider, who would be seated as though he or she were on a chair: indeed, when he presented the idea, d’Ascanio began by sketching a person in a comfortable sitting position, and then drew the scooter beneath him.
The final distinguishing feature of the design philosophy behind the new vehicle was the use of lightweight materials: another feature taken from aeronautics, where materials had to be light but strong. With these innovations, in September 1945, Corradino presented his prototype, the MP6, and in early April 1946, the final version, the legendary first Vespa 98cc. Inspecting the vehicle, Enrico Piaggio took an instant liking to it. Hearing the buzz of the engine and observing the ample seat in contrast with the narrow centre and tail, he exclaimed “It looks like a wasp!”, and a wasp – Vespa – it became! At midday on 24 April, a patent was registered in Florence for a “motorcycle composed of a rational group of parts and elements with a frame combined with mudguards and a casing covering all mechanical parts”, the Vespa. In a show of entrepreneurial daring, Enrico Piaggio immediately put a run of 2,500 scooters into production. The arrival of the Vespa was a watershed moment in the history of the Piaggio company, compared with its first 60 years of activity. The Pontedera factory abandoned its aeronautical projects and production to make the decisive move into the scooter business.
The Vespa made its debut in Rome, at an event attended by US General Stone representing the allied military government. The presentation was covered by the US cinema newsreel Movietone: Italians would see the Vespa scooter for the first time in Motor magazine (24 March 1946) and on the black and white cover of La Moto on 15 April 1946. They had the chance to see the futuristic vehicle for themselves at the Milan Fair in 1946. The press and the trade immediately realised the importance of the Vespa’s innovations and inventive engineering content. The international markets also showed interest in the scooter, which aroused admiration and curiosity among the public and the press. The Times called the Vespa “a completely Italian product such as we have not seen for centuries since the Roman chariot”. In 1947, a new product went into production: the Ape –officially launched in 1948 – a three-wheel van for the goods transport needs of postwar Italy, which adopted the same approach and philosophy that had inspired Enrico Piaggio for the Vespa. Like the Vespa, the Ape was immediately taken up for daily use; it was available in different models for a variety of applications, including the Ape Calessino passenger van.
AN EVERGREEN: FREEDOM AND THE PLEASURE OF TRAVEL. The story of the Vespa is fascinating from many points of view: technical, customs, innovation, style. The scooter also broke new ground in communication, with women as the focus of the message of the first advertising campaign. Piaggio’s extraordinary invention soon spread across the world, enjoying a commercial success and visibility that continues to this day, offering independence and the pleasure of mobility to whole generations. In 1988, Piaggio reached a milestone when the 10 millionth Vespa left the production lines. Worldwide Vespa sales around the world since 1946 – with more than 130 models – have now exceeded 18 million scooters, of which 1,500,000 in the last ten years alone (2005-2015). The story continues…
THE PIAGGIO GROUP TODAY: MULTINATIONAL, MULTICULTURAL.
Piaggio PFF Roberto Colaninno
The Piaggio Group is the largest European manufacturer of two-wheel motor vehicles and one of the world leaders in its sector. It is also a major international player on the commercial vehicle market. Roberto Colaninno is Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Piaggio Group, Matteo Colaninno is Deputy Chairman. Piaggio (PIA.MI) has been listed on the Italian stock exchange since 2006. Since 2003, the Piaggio Group has been controlled by Immsi S.p.A. (IMS.MI), an industrial holding listed on the Italian stock exchange and headed by Roberto Colaninno, who is Chairman. Immsi’s Chief Executive Officer and MD is Michele Colaninno.
THE RANGE. The Piaggio Group product range includes scooters, motorcycles and mopeds from 50 to 1,400 cc marketed under the Piaggio, Vespa, Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera, Derbi and Scarabeo brands. The Group also operates in the three- and four-wheel light transport sector with its Ape, Porter and Quargo (Ape Truck) ranges of commercial vehicles. In 2014, the Piaggio Group shipped a total of 546,500 vehicles worldwide. The Piaggio Group brand portfolio contains some of the most distinguished and historic names in the motorcycling world: these include Gilera (founded in 1909), Moto Guzzi (founded in 1921), Derbi (1922) and Aprilia, which in just over twenty years has established itself as one of the most successful manufacturers in the world of Speed and Superbike championships. The Piaggio Group has a formidable record in motor racing, with extraordinary names such as Aprilia, Moto Guzzi, Gilera and Derbi that have gone down in sport history. Together, these Piaggio Group brands have won an impressive total of 104 world championship titles: Aprilia: 54 titles; Derbi: 21 titles; Moto Guzzi: 15 titles; Gilera: 14 titles.
LOCATIONS. The Piaggio Group is headquartered in Pontedera (Pisa, Italy) and has production plants around the world: Pontedera, where the Group technical HQ is located, which produces Piaggio, Vespa and Gilera branded two-wheelers, light transport vehicles for the European market and engines for scooters and motorcycles; Noale (Venice), a technical centre for the development of motorcycles for the entire Group and the home of Aprilia Racing; Scorzè (Venice), which produces Aprilia and Scarabeo branded two-wheelers; Mandello del Lario (Lecco, Italy), which produces Moto Guzzi vehicles and engines; Baramati (India, in the state of Maharashtra), which produces three- and four-wheel light transport vehicles for the Indian market and for export, the Vespa scooter for the local market, diesel and turbodiesel engines for the Group’s commercial vehicles; Vinh Phuc (Vietnam) which produces Vespa and Piaggio scooters for the local market and the Asia-Pacific area. The Piaggio Group also operates in China through a joint venture (Zongshen Piaggio Foshan Motorcycles, based in Foshan in the province of Guangdong) in which it holds a 45% stake and which is therefore not included in the Group’s consolidated results. In the USA, Pasadena in California is home to the Piaggio Group Advanced Design Center for R&D. Also in the USA, Piaggio Fast Forward Inc. (PFF), a Piaggio subsidiary established in June 2015 to develop innovative mobility and transport solutions and technologies, is based in Cambridge, Massachusetts.