Renault Sport And Benelli Alliance - Euro Notes

The agreement announced earlier this spring between Renault Sport-a wholly owned subsidiary of the French car manufacturer-and Benelli is more than a curiosity; it provides for a commercial and technical collaboration to develop a range of Renault scooters to be sold exclusively through the company's car dealerships from spring 2001 onward. This may be viewed as a response to the success of Renault's rival Peugeot, itself developing an effective "cradle-to-grave" marketing philosophy aimed at establishing customer loyalty from a young age via the best-selling Peugeot range of cycles and scooters. Already, in September '99, Renault began selling its own bicycles, and now the agreement with Benelli calls for powered two-wheelers to follow shortly. This will come as a disappointment to Aprilia, who has been courting a linkup of precisely this kind with Renault for the past three years.

For Benelli, however, the Renault tie-up offers a range of interesting possibilities, extending beyond the opportunity to substantially increase its scooter production. It's worth noting that the deal is not with the parent Renault company, but with Renault Sport-several times World Champion Formula 1 engine manufacturers with Williams and Benetton in the 1990s, and about to return to F1 next season after acquiring the Benetton race-team operation in Britain.

There's no doubt that Benelli chief Andrea Merloni and head engineer Riccardo Rosa (who already knows Renault Sport from his days in F1, first as a Ferrari race engineer and then as technical director of the Fondmetal F1 team before switching to bikes in 1993 with the Cagiva 500cc GP team) will draw on Renault Sport's technical expertise in developing the Tornado 900 three-cylinder Superbike, and the future range of motorcycles of other types which Benelli is already planning. And with Ford pumping a rumored $15 million into the Harley-Davidson factory race operation-including the H-D AMA Superbike team-in order to promote its best-selling light-truck line to Harley owners, expect a comparable investment by Renault in the Benelli race effort when the Italian triple hits the tracks in 2002, perhaps even acting as lead sponsor. This could be the start of a significant commercial relationship, especially given the financial clout, commercial success and industrial expertise of the Merloni family's home-appliance empire in Europe.

Benelli 150 Adiva Scooter
Benelli's new Tornado 900 has gotten all the attention, but that company's success in carving a slice of the competitive scooter market is what got it the Renault Sport deal-maybe especially the Adiva "scooter-with-a-roof." After a year's R&D;, the Adiva is about to enter production in September, first in 150cc guise then in 125cc form, both powered by four-stroke two-valve ohc Piaggio Leader engines.

The Adiva is a convenient convertible with a roof that quickly folds away into the lockable space behind the seat. Even with the roof down there's space for a briefcase and shopping. There's locker space in the cabin for documents and sunglasses, as well as room for a radio and a socket to charge your cell phone. The Adiva is rider-friendly, with a spacious cabin, comfy seat, reasonable passenger accommodations, little vibration even at speed, clean pickup from the CVT transmission, decent stopping power from the twin discs, and the feeling of a solid, well-made product.

Bakker Barracuda Roadster
After in-house rider/machinist Jeroen Oudeman of Holland's Bakker Frames rode a modified TL1000S streetbike in a handful of rounds of the Dutch Open Series, chassis guru Nico Bakker sat down to design an all-new chassis for the Suzuki V-twin. The Bakker Barracuda is the result. Bakker has since developed two street versions-a fully faired race-rep, and an upright, half-faired bike.

"My aim in designing the chrome-moly frame was to have the stiffness of the TL1000R chassis at the same weight as the TL1000S...the street Barracuda with full fairing and the Japanese fuel injection is 46 pounds lighter than the TL1000R, and much less bulky. This was a bike that was waiting to be done," Bakker says.

The quality of Bakker's artistry in metal is superlative, quite apart from the Barracuda's evocative styling by Nico's own in-house team, and the performance of his bikes is very hard to fault. Just sitting on it has you nodding your head in approval. This is how the TL-R should have turned out, if only.