November 30, 2009: Scooters: An argument still worth making

Record unemployment rates. Billion-dollar bailouts. Wall Street crashes.
Among such national headlines, the message that a scooter could save a U.S. family thousands of dollars annually was lost in a sea of distressing news over the past year. That’s the belief of Paolo Timoni, the CEO of Piaggio Group Americas, who watched, with the rest of the industry, retail demand for scooters in the past year quickly fall vs. 2008.
But what’s to be learned from the huge decline in retail scooter sales? Could it be that the message of potential savings for a family of having a scooter rather than a second car — a possible checkbook bonus of thousands annually — will never be as lucrative to the industry as a sudden hike in gas prices?
“We’re not in a position to say,” Timoni said in a recent interview with Powersports Business from New York, the headquarters of Piaggio Group Americas.
“Unfortunately with the very big national issues — the new administration, big bailouts, billion of dollars being given out here and there — no one is really interested in an opportunity for the American family to save $5,000-$6,000 a year,” he said, “and so, really, no is one is talking about it and we don’t have the muscles to push this message in the face of millions of American consumers.
“The reality is that this message we have did not have any exposure this year, and so the jury is still out.”
Timoni and the Piaggio Group remain convinced that the opportunity for saving thousands a dollars a year for the average U.S. family — a calculation derived in part from a AAA survey — is a worthwhile message and it will be one they repeat in 2010.
Another message the Piaggio Group Americas will work on delivering is its growth in the motorcycle market. Timoni said the manufacturer’s small-volume Aprilia business in the United States increased significantly over a year ago, with about a 20 percent gain in retail sales over 2008. Even in smaller numbers that gain is noteworthy in an industry that has seen, through September, a nearly 44 percent decrease in its two-wheel sales vs. a year ago.
Piaggio Group Americas expects another 20-30 percent growth next year as the manufacturer brings its new superbike, the RSV 4, to the United States. The new bike features a 999cc V-four cylinder engine, lightweight frame and what Piaggio calls “state–of-the-art electronics.”
Timoni expects that new superbike to not only generate additional foot traffic for dealers, but also bring additional attention to the Aprilia’s other offerings.
Piaggio Group Americas also will work on adding to its motorcycle dealers network as Timoni said the company is still striving to get dealers in each of the top 150 markets in the United States. However, Timoni said the company’s first priority is to increase the average number of units sold per dealer for each dealership that is engaged in Piaggio’s brands.
On the scooter side, the company is much further along with its dealer network, already having covered the top 150 U.S. markets.
“In terms of awareness and acceptance, our commercial strength is getting stronger and stronger,” Timoni said of Piaggio’s scooter sales.
That could also be said about the scooter brand’s market share. Timoni said he expects a further market share increase of up to 2 percentage points this year as 2009 will mark the fourth year in a row for market share gains for the company. Timoni said the company passed a major competitor and now sits at No. 2 in market share per unit volume, sitting only behind Yamaha. However, for market share in terms of dollars, Piaggio Group Americas will remain No. 1 for the second consecutive year.
“The next big growth opportunity for the industry is scooters,” Timoni said, noting the company is cautiously optimistic about next year, believing consumer confidence will return in the second half of 2010.
“We’ll continue to pound until we find a way to make it happen,” he said of touting the savings a scooter could bring to the American family household. “We’re not going to walk away.”

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