Mumbai Holiday on a Vespa?

July 6, 2009

Think Vespa, and images of Audrey Hepburn and rides down cobble-stoned streets immediately come to mind.

How about families of four riding precariously on the choked streets of Mumbai or Delhi?

Piaggio, the Italian vehicle maker that has made the Vespa since just after World War II, has made a big success of its three-wheeler auto rickshaws and commercial vehicles in India, and intends to relaunch the iconic brand here soon.

Why now, when vehicle sales are sluggish, at best? Why now, when the two-wheeler market has moved pretty much decisively to motorbikes? Why now, when a certain low-cost car is close to actually rolling into homes of a lucky 100,000?

But not so long ago, which middle-class Indian family didn’t aspire for — and wait months for — a Bajaj Chetak?

Now, despite gravity-defying motorbikes endorsed by the likes of Hrithik Roshan and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, scooter sales are slowly but surely ticking up.

Sure, many of these are the gentle, gearless variety so popular with the ladies. And yes, they cannot hope to match the numbers of their more macho cousins.

But scooters are also enjoying a bit of a comeback in the west, particularly among college goers, celebs and eco-warriors, because of high fuel prices and the downturn, and a nostalgia that has revived such icons as Volkswagen’s Beetle or Fiat’s Cinquecento.

In India too, scooter sales are ticking up as Honda, Bajaj and TVS explore new, stylish and more fuel-efficient options.

Vespa — Italian for wasp, and named some say because of the high-pitched noise of its two-stroke engine or because of its shape — is no stranger to the Indian market: it was made by Piaggio and then LML in past years.

Now, Piaggio’s wholly owned subsidiary will undertake the task of wooing the Indian masses with the Italian classic.

All we need perhaps, is a scene, a la Roman Holiday or La Dolce Vita, in one of our Bollywood flicks, featuring the new Vespa, to kickstart a new generation of Vespa-lovers in India.

Who would be our own Hepburn and Peck?

5 comments

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Rina Chandran has missed out a bit of history. Vespa was made in India from 1960 to 1970 by Bajaj Auto; the Bajaj scooter is a direct descendant. Hamara Bajaj is about as hamara as Sonia Gandhi!

I have dim memories of a sprightly new model descending on roads dominated by the Lambretta and dethroning it. If my memory serves me right, the squared-out Bajaj Classic shape preserves the last production model of the Bajaj Vespa.

Posted by Ranajay Gupta | Report as abusive

Actually, she is right. LML did partner with Vespa and made LML Vespa, well into the nineties!

if someone says apple…you say orange?

Posted by anil | Report as abusive

I think the Vespa lost out to other 2 wheelers because it was geared (especially when the non geared 2 wheelers came in the market)
Customers especially Ladies would prefer a non geared vehicle as they would not like to make a wavy path like Audrey Hepburn and barge into Gregory Peck (what a wonderful movie)
Thanks Rina for bringing back good old memories.

Posted by Joe Zach | Report as abusive

Vespa, it is a nice scooter, and driving it in Mumbai would tempt me, even though it would be considered a bit dangerous :)