Last week Italian two-wheeler major Piaggio opened up the production lines for a brand new scooter at its plant at Baramati, Maharashtra. And no the company was not doing what it has done for years in India, bringing out a new variant of its popular staple Vespa. The machines began humming this time round for a new scooter under a new brand — the Aprilia SR150. With this, Piaggio is not just taking another shot at the fiercely-contested two wheeler market currently controlled by Honda, but also signaling a shift in the way it will roll its dice from here on.
For one, the company is crossing categories and labels. Aprilia, popular the world over for its superbikes RSV4 RR and Mana 850, will debut in India as a premium scooter. Secondly the company even while sticking to the premium positioning within scooters (like it has done with Vespa) is using Aprilia to make a play for the youth market. It is thereby reaching out to a new set of customers and hoping to build an association that goes beyond the Vespa, the bike that it is commonly associated with in India.
The Aprilia SR150 will not be light on pocket. In fact, its Rs 65,000 (ex-showroom, Pune) price tag makes it one of the costliest scooters in the market today (Rs 3,000 more than the Honda Activa 125). Vespa remains the most expensive scooter with as many as six variants straddling the range Rs 70,000-88,000. While Vespa is positioned as a niche product targeted at the affluent rider looking for a retro-looking classic machine, Aprilia SR150 is flaunting its ‘sporty looks’ to attract the youth.
Keeping it young
The Aprilia will be different from all scooters currently sold in India (with the exception of Vespa SLX/VLX 150) that have an engine less than 125cc at present.
Stefano Pelle, managing director and CEO, Piaggio Vehicles (PVPL), said, “The Aprilia SR150 follows our clear mandate to consolidate on the premium scooter market. Our research has shown that whilst the scooter market has been growing, the desirability for bikes still drives the Indian youth.”
The SR150 is positioned as a moto scooter with the only possible rival being the 110cc powered Honda Dio. A moto scooter is a stylish, performance-dedicated scooter whereas other scooters have toned down styling and turned towards family buyers. This leaves a gap that the company hopes Aprilia will fill.
What do the young want from their bikes? Speed, style and power are their key desires say most bike makers and in this, Indian riders are no different from their counterparts worldwide. They may be more price-value conscious however and hence, many see Piaggio’s decision to go with Aprilia in its scooter avatar as an attempt to stoke all desires with one brand.
“The crossover segment in India is in its nascent stage and we are yet to see its full potential. With the Aprilia SR 150 we aim to capitalise on this opportunity as it is known for its racing heritage and we have packed some of the superbikes’ abilities like performance and handling in this,” says Pelle.
Life beyond Vespa
Piaggio in India has been struggling to attract new buyers. Sales of the Vespa dipped to an average of 2,300 per month last financial year down from an average of 4,300 units per month three years ago, as per Society of Indian Auto-mobile Manufacturers data. Despite continuous product changes, launch of new variants and several sales promotion schemes, Vespa has struggled to hold consumer interest.
Vespa holds a meagre share of just 0.5 per cent of the Indian scooter market. Sales last year closed down 4 per cent even as the industry reported a rise of 12 per cent to 5.03 million units. A questionnaire sent to Piaggio seeking reasons behind the stagnation of growth in Vespa remained unanswered.
It is not that the company has not tried to get the Vespa back on its wheels. It stopped production of Vespa (base model), Vespa VX and Vespa S and replaced them with Vespa SLX, VLX range with 150cc and 125cc engines. New Vespa models have pushed the average acquisition cost of the brand up by roughly Rs 10,000. But its efforts have not met with much success and market watchers believe that heavy discounts on older Vespas eroded brand value. Add to this the closure of few showrooms, limited retail reach and high ticket costs, the brand soon lost its hold over the Indian imagination and the numbers began sliding down.
Aprilia could help Piaggio navigate its way out of the stagnant sales pool. For that however, the company will have to seriously look at its pricing strategy believe industry experts. The SR150 remains premium priced compared to other top-sellers such as the Honda Activa and TVS Jupiter, but future variants of the Aprilia will be priced more competitively. Plans are also afoot to launch the Piaggio series of affordable scooters that are sold internationally. Pelle says, “Our current focus is the Aprilia SR150. In the future we will endeavour to bring more such innovative products.”