Aprilia Gets Ready - Up To Speed

"It is just like when a woman has two large diamonds," Aprilia president Ivano Beggio says about his company's recent acquisition of Moto Guzzi for a cool $61 million (see Up To Speed, August 2000). "She doesn't cover one diamond with the other-she wants one on both hands!" Aprilia wants desperately to plant itself in American soil, and keeping Guzzi's established marque alive and well may be an excellent plan of attack for the Noale, Italy, based company. "Aprilia's future very much depends on large-displacement motorcycles," says Beggio. "Moto Guzzi has history and experience and reputation in that segment that will help establish us."

There is a bit of irony surrounding Aprilia's struggle to come to terms with the American market. In Europe, Aprilia is a genuine powerhouse, selling more than 60,000 motorcycles and 250,000 scooters last year to the tune of $640 million. Its revamped assembly facility can pump out 2500 machines a day; its newly remodeled corporate headquarters (which also houses its engineering facilities and racing division) covers 1.03 million square feet and boasts 16 engine test rooms, bright, shiny hallways, modern architecture and a palpable sense of youthful enthusiasm (the average age of an Aprilia employee is just 30 years old). Photos of the jovial ex-Aprilia GP jester Valentino Rossi are everywhere, and even Beggio keeps an autographed picture of the Spice Girls not far from a photo of himself with the Pope.

Technological achievements, too, are part of Aprilia's scheme. Its new SR 50 DITECH (Direct Injection Technology, developed by Orbital) scooter is a major environmental advancement for two-stroke engines. By directly injecting fuel into the combustion chamber (thus keeping it separated from the oil lubricating the crankcase) pollutant emissions are reduced by a claimed 80 percent compared with a traditional 50cc two-stroke engine.

But will all this translate into American sales? Aprilia is poised for battle: Plans to solidify and expand its U.S. dealer network are already underway, and "once it can be done right," the company will launch a full-scale factory attack on the AMA Superbike wars. A GS-style trailie bike and sexy (from what we glimpsed) new sport-tourer-both with RSV-derived powerplants-will debut this fall, models which Aprilia hopes will cement its reputation as a big-bike manufacturer.

"In a war," Beggio told us solemnly, "you need both prudence and extreme velocity."

The waiting, it seems, is nearly over. -G.M