… Along came Vespa – the past and future of Italy’s famous two-wheeler

vespa brand made in italy

It may be a truth accepted by most of us that Italy is the land of many wonders: food, fashion, history, art, natural beauty, and a wide range of industries that have turned the “Made in Italy” brand a trademark in the world. Glorious past, centuries-old traditions, religious fervour and creative genius… In Italy, beauty and la dolce vita have always found a way to harmonically collide to generate admired and appreciated masterpieces. One such example of Made in Italy is, of course, Vespa. Living strong for 72 years and counting, the two-wheeler Vespa (the “Wasp”, for its engine’s buzz), unconsciously revolutionized the life of the Post-WWII Italy by reshaping social dynamics; developing equality (where the rich and the poor, men and women alike became free to enjoy their emancipation, independence and free time like never before); and lastly paving the way to the Italian economic boom of late Fifties.

The icon of post-war Italy: Vespa, from function to glamour

With major infrastructures and many industries destroyed, Italy was, like many other countries in Post-WWII Europe, desperate to find rather quickly a way to shake off the weight of the past and rebuild a new future. Among the many catalysts of the “Ricostruzione Italiana”, the Era of the Italian Reconstruction (which immediately followed the end of the conflict), the Piaggio Group led by the industrialist Enrico Piaggio introduced a revolution whose consequences resulted in tremendous impact on Italian history and beyond. The encounter between his visionary intuition and his intention to solve the Country’s post-war urgent need for reliable and affordable means of transportations, together with the talent of designer and engineer Corradino D’Ascanio, developed a small and manageable two-wheeler intended for the everyday life of everyone. The success was immediate: it was April 23rd 1946: Vespa was born. As a fusion between functionality and versatility, mass product and unique design, Vespa responded to the needs of its audience and by benefitting from the rise of the mass media communication in all of its forms (from cinema to the daily TV commercials strip “Carosello”), it didn’t take too long before it also became the symbol of the affordable-for-everyone glamour of the Dolce Vita (thanks in no small measure to the 1952 movie Roman Holiday). With its affordability, Vespa also granted social categories previously excluded from the public scene such as young people, women (who also were granted for the first the time right to vote in the General Elections of 1946!) and those who were less well-off, the opportunity to actively participate in the Country’s new economic life by entering the workforce. The positive economic upheaval generated by Vespa, and the social implications that followed, impacted its early years but continued to manifest over time. Even today, Vespa remains, for many Vespisti (the Italian word for Vespa lovers/owners/fans), a symbol of fun, sociality and practical functionality (popular rallies are held in its name and spread throughout Italy, Europe and the world: the Vespa Clubs).

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History of Piaggio and Vespa

Established in 1884 by Rinaldo Piaggio, the Piaggio Group based in Pontedera (Pisa-Italy), was in its early years the manufacturer of locomotives and railway carriages, reconverting production over time, but specifically during the years of the Second World War, to military aircrafts. Bombed to the ground by the Allied Forces in the mid-Forties, the plant under the lead of Rinaldo’s son Enrico reopened doors and began producing Vespas, immediately following the end of the conflict. Along the course of the decades, as for many businesses and enterprises, the Piaggio Group also experienced the increasing competition and business hardships. Lambretta, by the Innocenti Group, based in Lambrate (Milano), alongside to Vespa became very popular among a wide audience in the late Forties. Unlike from Vespa, nevertheless, its inability to evolve with the ever-changing times, and possibly poor leadership, caused Lambretta’s tenure to last for about two decades, until 1971, when the Lambrate’s assembly lines closed for good. Its legacy survived abroad where it continued to be produced and distributed, specifically in India and in the U.K. Family ties bonded the Italian brand Fiat to Piaggio: the heiress of the Piaggio family, Antonella Bechi Piaggio, married Umberto Agnelli of the Agnelli family. Their son, Giovannino Agnelli, in the Nineties, found himself leading both of the Companies in parallel. With few changes in ownership and a close call of bankruptcy, the Piaggio Group regained control in the early 2000s when the new CEO Roberto Colaninno relaunched the brand and diversified the offerings by acquiring, among others, the Italian motorcycle maker Aprilia.

made in italy brands vespa

Vespa buzzing around the world

Early in its post-war history, the Piaggio Group understood the importance of mass production, lower costs and global distribution. Vespa, as a mass product at lower costs, was able to attain prototype number 500,000.00 by 1953, followed by the number 1,000,000.00 only three years later. Although these numbers may not seem so impressive for our current days, they are rather unimaginable considering the times in which they were produced. In the global distribution front, Vespa run ahead of its time and competition by expanding its presence abroad, by exploiting domestic control over an international production system and a dense distribution network, thus succeeding in reaching the global public (since the early Sixties, in fact, manufacturing and distribution centres were already present in Spain, Belgium, France, the U.K.,Brazil and India).

The new millennium: Vespa and PFF

In the continuous attempt to keep up with the needs of the current times, in 2016 the Piaggio Group announced at the Milan Motorcycle Show EICMA (Esposizione Internazionale Ciclo Motociclo e Accessori) the introduction of a new line of electric scooters, the Vespa Elettrica. The latest model of Vespa is in production now, and sales will begin during this year’s Milan EICMA in November (as well as online). The new generation Vespa is still produced in its original Italian manufacturing plant of Pontedera and is scheduled to be available in early 2019 first in Europe, then in the United States and Asia. The new Vespa Elettrica will also be equipped for a future artificial intelligence device solutions (with the option to be installed in the vehicle at a later time) currently being developed by Piaggio Fast Forward (PFF). Piaggio Fast Forward, the Italian startup based in Boston, USA, is the new millennium face of the Piaggio Group. At its core is the drive to generate intelligent solutions apt to improve the mobility of people and goods, not intended to replace the human component but to considerably improve what humans can do. Vespa, as a product of Piaggio, is already benefitting from this new frontier in innovation and technology. Engineering and design, functionality and sociality, Vespa has rightly earned overtime its place in the collective imagination as Italian miracle: a true Made in Italy born in difficult times that has become an icon of glamor and has conquered the world, continuing to be on the forefront of technology, innovating and improving lives with beauty and grace, as only Italians can do.

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Elisa Ghisellini

Elisa GhiselliniLiving in the U.S. the Italian way… this is Elisa, lucky enough to have the best of both worlds: the Italian upbringing and education and the American open land of opportunities . Elisa returns home to Rovigo as much as she can (mandatory is Christmas with her family!) while enjoying her life in the U.S. as she continues to discover ways in which Italy made, and continues to make, an impact in America and in the world at all. She knows one day her name will make it to this list too!

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