The Lambretta is back, at least in name.
On Monday, May, 21, 2007, a couple Modern Vespa bulletin board users started to tease readers with some information about a new Lambretta that was to be unveiled Tuesday night at a local club meeting (via San Francisco Scooter Centre and a Scoot! Magazine test-ride/review.) Others reported seeing the bikes earlier at SFSC with taped-over logos. Thanks to their hints and some tips from our network of spies, 2sb has pieced the story together and it’s sadly not the fairy tale rebirth of Lambretta scooterists have always hoped for.
First off, let’s make it clear that we’re not talking about CMSI/TNG’s “L-Series,” formerly known a “Scomadi” and originally known as the “new Lambretta.” CMSI’s plan to build a modern Lambretta (whatever they end up calling it) is still underway. That bike is exciting, if way over budget and years behind schedule, and just about any scooterist would be thrilled to see it (finally) on dealer floors.
This new “new Lambretta” shares its origins with the “L-Series,” however. At the genesis of that project, CMSI was working with the Khurana family, owners of a Seattle car/scooter dealership called Maharaja Motors/Scooters of Seattle. The Khuranas backed out of the venture in February, 2006 when CMSI determined that the Lambretta trademark was too volatile to use for a project with global sales implications. CMSI (with british engineering assistance) kept moving forward (slowly) on the newly-dubbed “Scomadi,” and the Khuranas went back to selling used luxury cars.
Until yesterday, that is. The Khurana family is apparently behind these new Lambrettas, which appear to be rebadged Adly Moto scooters, manufactured by the Her Chee Industrial Co. of Taiwan. Her Chee is ISO Certified and publicly owned, but appears to have some manufacturing ties to mainland China and probably falls short in quality to the better-known Taiwanese brands (Kymco, SYM, and PGO), though is hopefully superior to the truly garbage Chinese manufacturers. The Lambretta UNO 150 is a 150cc 4-stroke Adly Noble, while the DUE 50 is a 50cc 2-stroke Adly Panther. At first glance, one would think that the Khuranas have matched Genuine Scooter Co.’s flair for marketing Asian scooters in the American market. Pictures show the DUE in solid orange or black, and the UNO in solid red or white with a minimum of graphics. Even though the Lambretta crest badges look ultra cheap, the other graphics (in white, presumably vinyl) are tastefully designed, placed and restrained.
But where Genuine took good-quality new-to-us scooters and and creatively rebranded them for the U.S., The Khuranas are selling bikes from a slightly-lower-tier maker, using one of the most beloved names in scooterdom.
They almost certainly have no global rights to the Lambretta name, [alas, they do, we later discovered -ed.] Note the logo on the bikes and the Lambretta USA site reads “Lambretta International,” and the site reads “Official Factory Web Site of Lambretta,” which seems to be tempting international legal doom. Their logo is technically original, though clearly derived from several variations of the original Lambretta and Innocenti logos. If Genuine was behind such a project, at least they’d source some quality three-dimensional badges, seeing as how the badges are the top selling point of the product. The whole enterprise lacks originality and attention to detail. On top of all that, Adly is already available here (and has a fairly low reputation, likely due to the questionable retailers that generally sell them).
Let’s assume for a moment that the Khuranas do legally own the name [they do -ed.] and that the Adly is a fully-respectable quality scooter. This may even be the case. If so, why is this so wrong? Simple. The Lambretta is almost indisputably the second-most famous and respected motorscooter ever produced. It is an icon of style, history, and performance. While the most hardcore vintage Lambretta fans will be shocked and disappointed with anything new, there is a place in the market for a “new” Lambretta, even a plastic-bodied twist-and-go. But it at least deserves an original design and first-rate engineering. This product shows no respect for the Lambretta name, and couldn’t be more clearly a cash-grab. CMSI’s Lambretta is much closer to the target, though perhaps it’s devotion to the original Lambretta may be unrealistic.
What will these Asian “Lambrettas” cost? It’s safe to bet they’ll cost more than an Adly. With all the nondescript Asian scooters on the market, there’s nothing to differentiate these scooters but a name. And that’s part of they mystery why the Khuranas would risk this trademark battle. At least when Schwinn put their own brand on “their” Chinese scooters (and further desecrated that hallowed name) it was a name with which Americans were familiar. Unlike “Vespa,” which is nearly synonymous with “Scooter,” and despite its worldwide cachet, “Lambretta” is a fairly-unknown marque in the U.S. Those that know the name will cringe at the sight of these bikes, those that don’t know it will simply wonder why they cost more than the other six bikes next to it that look the same.
And even if the Khuranas can build a great dealer network, will parts be available? Even Genuine and KymcoUSA have a hard time getting what they need from India and Taiwan sometimes. And I’m willing to bet a company that would put cheap Lambretta badges on a Taiwanese scooter isn’t going to be building a solid dealer network, or developing their infrastructure. Sure, they’re courting the trusted dealers now, but how long until they’re unloading them at Internet scooter shops, feed stores, and (ugh) Pep Boys?
One key to the success for the “Uno” and “Due” may be a “Tre:” the Khuranas are promising a SIL-design metal-bodied Lambretta later this year. Whether that’s reality or pipe dream remains to be seen, but I’d hope prospective dealers would demand some pretty solid evidence before buying into that, especially after more than four years selling TNG scooters waiting for the L-series. or bringing Diamo into their shops on the promise of the new Italjets. Even Piaggio floods dealers’ floors with Typhoons and Flys while keeping the GTS in demand. Hopefully dealers are learning their lesson, that a good scooter in hand is worth a dozen Chinese knockoffs in the bush. Unless you’re in it for the money and don’t want to stick around for the long haul, which appears to be the Khuranas’ plan.
When Piaggio returned to America, their greatest asset could have been the goodwill of American scooterists, but they took a pass. The Khuranas seem to be trying to capitalize on that power by getting current scooterists interested in their product (after all, glasseye’s first post on the BBS was “I have been asked to post up about the new Lambretta.”) But this ‘teaser’ campaign isn’t doing them any favors, it’s just angering scooterists by making a promise (New Lambrettas!), then delivering something so uninteresting (Adlys!), it inspires disappointment and/or rage. Hopefully dealers and magazine reviewers and customers will take the high road and stand up for the Lambretta name. Hey, even if the scooters are halfway decent, the Adly-branded versions will almost definitely be a better value.