The Wall Street Journal on Piaggio’s “comeback”

After starting out with the obligatory (Jesus, make them stop) “Audrey Hepburn lead,” yesterday’s Wall Street Journal story (syndicated here because the WSJ won’t share) about Piaggio’s “comeback” goes on to say:

[In] 2003, the company, based outside of Pisa, found itself in such dire straits that it teetered on the brink of default. Years of revolving-door management and millions of euros squandered on ill-conceived expansion plans had saddled Piaggio with crushing debts and left it vulnerable to competition from cheaper Asian rivals.

The Journal credits Roberto Colaninno and his staff with turning the company around, and they are making progress. Piaggio’s back in the black, but many of the very changes the WSJ praises are the same actions that caused trouble in the past. How are these new Chinese joint ventures less risky than the ones that fell apart ten years ago? How is the current Asian competition less of a threat? Why is the purchase of Aprilia and Moto Guzzi any more promising than the other dozen mergers and acquisitions Piaggio’s fumbled before? Is Piaggio really leading an Italian manufacturing revival, or are they assembling mostly Asian-made components on an Italian assembly line? Does Piaggio finally have their act together, or are they just riding a lucky wave of nostalgia and high gas prices?

It’s certainly a bit of both. The management, both in the U.S. and worldwide offices, seems to be more focused and Piaggio definitely remains a worldwide technology (and style) leader. Their public offering, even though it’s likely to be delayed, will help stabilize the company, too. Still, they can’t let their guard down, the scooter industry is never smooth sailing, especially in Italy and the United States. Colaninno has been quoted several times lately calling North America Piaggio’s most critical growth market. U.S. sales, support, and supply have improved in the past year, but if they’re serious about conquering the U.S., there’s still a lot more work to do.