Looking to continue its growing U.S. presence

By Steve Bauer
Managing Editor
Even as world financial markets continue to struggle, Piaggio Group Americas has continued to invest heavily in marketing programs for its scooter line.
Not only has the company recently launched a new interactive Web site designed specifically for the Vespa, but it also holds high hopes that scooters will maintain their 2008 sales surge, with consumers purchasing the vehicles for their low overall costs.
To that end, the company has committed to new and more aggressive marketing campaigns to promote scooter sales despite the down economy, with the belief that U.S. consumers are more willing than ever to consider scooters as an economically sensible alternative to driving an automobile for everyday use.

Vespa Web site
Piaggio Group USA’s new consumer Web site, www.vespausa.com, designed specifically for new and return Vespa riders, attempts to connect with users by delivering an interactive experience, with the focus on highlighting a shared sense of community and providing practical reasons to ride.
“The Vespa brand appeals to both the emotional and rational side of the brain, and the new site offers a world of content that speaks to both,” said Paolo Timoni, president and CEO, Piaggio Group USA.
Timoni says the development of the new site is important because it shows Piaggio’s willingness to invest in promoting its product line when some companies are waiting to see how the market will turn in 2009.
“This site is just the first step for us this year, as more consumers than ever are considering a scooter as a personal transportation option,” he said. “Even with gas prices falling, it’s important to stress to consumers how economically viable scooters are, and that will be our main focus in the near future.”
Timoni says the new Vespa site is unique because the company has created a one-stop resource center that provides all the tools and information consumers needs to connect to what is a rapidly growing scooter community.
“With U.S. scooter sales at record highs, one Web site challenge was to meet the needs of the rapidly growing base of potential new riders while building strong relationships with Vespa’s loyal owner community,” he said. “As a result, the new site features sections that answer consumer questions on licensing and ownership benefits and an e-newsletter, among others.”
Content highlights include a Google Maps-based “Community Rides” tool that helps scooter commuters or tourers uncover, share, rate, download and comment on new riding routes. Mapped rides also can be updated, saved and resubmitted; a new interactive “History and Heritage” section traces the evolution of the Vespa; a new “Vespa vs. auto MPG” fuel savings calculator in the Vespanomics section invites visitors to see how fast they can supercharge their car or SUV’s fuel-economy average by adding a Vespa to the fleet; and a new dealer locator section makes short work of identifying a local dealer, complete with mapped directions, e-mail addresses and a “contact me” feature.

An economical alternative
Timoni says one of Piaggio’s biggest challenges of 2009 will be to find even more ways for the company to inform financially strapped consumers about the overall benefits of scooters.
“I’ve said this before, but it’s important for people to understand what a viable alternative transportation source scooters are,” he said. “People still need to get to and from work, and not only do these vehicles require a minimum initial investment, but they are practical in just about any urban environment in terms of avoiding traffic congestion, and they will allow you to save money in your budget from fewer trips to the pump.”
Timoni doesn’t believe the recent economic woes on Wall Street will have a tremendous impact on the company’s scooter sales, and in fact believes the financial troubles many consumers are facing might lead them to consider a scooter more than ever.
“You will see a lot of marketing promotions, new model launches and an ever-expanding dealer network from us in 2009,” he said. “We believe now is actually an opportunity for us to gain more market share.”
While he admits there are uncertainties in regards to how the world markets will affect Piaggio Group’s overall sales, the U.S. is an area that is going to be targeted more than ever by the company.
“We are prepared to adjust our strategy if the market takes a sudden downward turn, but we don’t believe that will be the case,” he said. “Judging by the continued strong interest we are receiving from consumers at our dealerships and solid traffic numbers on our Web sites, people are willing to spend their money as long as they know it is a solid investment, and luckily more and more are beginning to acknowledge that scooters are much more than a niche recreational product.”

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