Timoni’s Travels through Time

Former Piaggio Americas CEO Paolo Timoni has written an editorial speculating on the future for Dealernews. If we ever seemed less-than-confident in Timoni’s guidance, this editorial piece should make our case nicely. Timoni’s hopes for the future in many ways are parallel those of 2strokebuzz, but we’d never in a million years imply that our dreams are realistic. Granted, he admits it’s all a bit of a fantasy, but one can’t help wondering if Piaggio’s U.S. growth plan was hitched on the same fantasy.
Let’s take a quick look at his predictions:

2012: New Industry Association. It seems unlikely that any brand new organization could steal the thunder from existing organizations and make such strides, even in 25 years. Certain manufacturers are simply not interested in supporting industrywide associations, publications, and events. Even Piaggio only occasionally appears at consumer motorcycle shows, and rarely (and on a serious budget) at DealerExpo. Getting them involved in clubs and rallies is only possible at the dealer level. All manufacturers have decades of bureaucracy in place and few are willing to share control of any organization. Again, Vespa’s forced dissolution of the independent FIV and its replacement with the equally-impotent but fully-Piaggio-controlled WVC is a good example of this (albeit outside the ‘industry’ sphere).

2013: Scooter Sharing. Licensing and insurance issues would make this seem highly unlikely. Car-sharers in urban areas borrow cars to pick up groceries or other bulky parcels, or for short road trips with a group of friends. You can’t round up four friends and rent a scooter to visit IKEA. Also, despite Piaggio’s continued insistence that a 50cc scooter is a moped and doesn’t require a drivers license, most municipalities treat it as a full-fledged scooter, and even if a motorcycle license isn’t a necessity, certainly some training is. Most urban areas offer scooter and motorcyle rentals of some sort, only in a handful of resort communities does it seem like a lucrative business. I’d much rather see Paris’ Velib system installed in Chicago.

2014: Smartphone interface. This is perhaps Timoni’s most intriguing and realistic suggestion, and something we’ve thought about a lot. Is Piaggio perhaps working on this? With EFI standard on most motorcycles and scooters, it’s very technologically feasible, imagine snapping your iPhone into your headset and tracking performance and mileage all while using it as a GPS, music player, and intercom! The only issue would be the infinite variety of phone sizes and connections and the different varieties of software and data from different manufacturers. Even if Piaggio (for instance) was working on an app/mount for the iPhone, what happens when the iPhone design and software changes in six months? Still, this is a ridiculously great idea and can be implemented to some degree, even without standardized hardware or software. (Never mind the distracted rider using it).

2015: Gas tax doubles gas prices. First, HOPING for higher gas prices to sell scooters is a bit sick. Second, until the motorcycle industry starts funnelling more money into lobbyists and PACs than the oil industry, this is never going to happen. What’s MORE likely to happen is that the cost of gas slowly doubles on its own, without generating revenue for the government. And as in the past, it happens so gradually that we all just complain about it incrementally but never get outraged enough to reduce demand.

2016: Smaller Displacement/Electric outsells larger displacement. This one actually made me laugh out loud. This is America, people want hawgs. There’s a growing market for small and ecologically friendly bikes, but it’s not going to be the majority in five years. An e-Bike revolution very well may happen, but it’s going to be a whole new market segment, like the original Vespa, lovingly designed from scratch from the ground up, not a traditional scooter or motorcycles with an electric motor stuffed inside.

2017: Motorcycle travel incentives. This isn’t anything that couldn’t happen right now, and it wouldn’t shake the industry at all, unless maybe millions of dollars of advertising were put behind it. Plus, could booking travel really get that much easier than it is now? PAYING for it is the hard part!

2018: Improved motorcycle media. I’m with Timoni 100% on this one, the problem is that print magazines survive on ad revenue, which is based on hyping products. A better motorcycle magazine might appear any day, but it won’t last long without sucking up to the manufacturers. So it’s up to the manufacturers to stop hyping speed and artificial penises and go back to “You meet the nicest people on a Honda.” Most motorsports ads (even most of the ones in an arguably everyman-friendly publication like Scoot! Magazine) make typical consumers laugh out loud, they’d be even more out of place in a consumer magazine (which is where manufacturers SHOULD BE advertising). Such information does exist in a handful of great British magazines and (far more so, for free) on the internet, which is why dumb blogs like this are often more valuable resources than long-established print publications.

2019: Serious 3-and-4 wheeler growth. This seems so ludicrous, I wouldn’t even bother commenting, but recently seeing the MP4’s popularity in Paris brings it into the realm of possibility. Still, I don’t think the American market is particularly interested in three-wheelers, and I don’t see that changing. I could write for days about the MP3, so I’ll leave it at that.

I should say I really think Timoni is on the right track on a few of these, but he’s just totally unrealistic, maybe because he (and, it should be noted, his successor) is using the European industry as a model, or because he vastly overestimates the political and marketing clout of the American industry. I have no doubt we will see some huge and surprising changes over the next 25 years, but the future becomes predictable only via looking at history, and I don’t think Timoni (and maybe I’m being unfair to Timoni on all counts, perhaps we can blame his superiors in Italy) learned much from Piaggio’s 50-some years embracing and abandoning America, and it shows, both in Piaggio’s sales numbers and in these predictions.

(I’m just stealing all my links from Scooterism these days, you should follow Eric on Twitter (or RSS if you’re a Twitter hater). Or I should “hire” him.)

7 thoughts on “Timoni’s Travels through Time”

  1. 2014: Smartphone interface.
    This is easy – it’s why God invented Bluetooth. IF the scooter makers agree to an open standard for the Bluetooth scooter data connection it should be workable with any smartphone with a simple app download. The only physical connection you’d want to use is to provide external power to the phone on longer rides – and thanks to EU regulations they all use the same connector.

    You know all those “boombox” speaker sets that are made with iPhone and iPod docks? We can call the scooter version a “Vroombox”.

  2. Funny, I was going to remark on this and Twitter wasn’t a good place for it. Neither is ModernVespa, where I’d be kicking a dead, now-long-gone horse. I need a scooter blog!

    Though some of the ideas are sound, many aren’t. More telling, there’s no real insight into the US market and where it’s headed. It’s not strategy or analysis, just fiction.

    The scooter sharing idea isn’t just dumb, it’s dangerous. He (and others) are strongly advocating a relaxation of licensing requirements and pushing to enable untrained riders to take to the streets on rental scoots. I don’t care if they’re 50s or whatever, it’s a bad idea. If such a thing happens, it will take a number of fatalities for some to realize just how bad an idea.

  3. I think it’s pretty clear that it’s written as speculative scenarios for entertainment rather than analysis. I could see several of the points as possible. They all have significant barriers. These barriers are just waiting for the right solution.

    As for the questions of licensing and training brought up here, I think there is room for progressive changes that reduce the ‘hassle’ of getting a motorcycle license. Clearly a good MSF course experience, with refresher courses throughout life is the best path. But there is no evidence that such a pathway is a reasonable response to ensuring competent operation of motor vehicles. We don’t do it with cars and we won’t do it with motorcycles. Differentiating between the ideal and reasonable is very important. In many states 50cc scooters are allowed to be driven by people without a valid drivers license. I’m sure there are accidents in these areas. But I’ve not come across reports of an epidemic of death on ‘mopeds’. I would rather see everyone on 2 wheels to get some amount of training, but not to the extent of MSF training and it will be the important to have the training accessible such as at retail outlets. If the industry wants uniform requirements and a reduced barrier to ownership, they could take the responsibility of training riders. His prediction of a cohesive industry group in 2012 is the most important. Standardization of cell phone interfaces, battery technology, licensing and the adoption of street legal quadricycles will all require a unified front that all the industry and consumer participants will benefit from.

  4. I need a scooter blog!

    Eric, your Stella 4T review on Scootin’ Old Skool has gotten a ton of views, and still draws 3-5 per day. You can write for me any time you want. ;)

  5. Mark: Only drag with Bluetooth is that Apple seriously limits the use of Bluetooth on the iPhone, but yeah, that would be great. Bluetooth is also bad for battery life, but like you said, most scooters have charger outlets. Love the name Vroombox, copyright that ASAP!

    Eric: The sharing idea sounds worse the more I think about it. Velib works because bikes are simple and easy to maintain. I could see an electric scooter system working, but again, we’re talking about proprietary ground-up develoipment that’s going to almost certainly come from outside the motorcycle industry, and even then, it’s mostly just a dream. Can you imagine the costs of keeping a fleet of thousands of Vespas in working order? replacing broken or stolen bikes? Preventing theft in the first place?

    Brooke, yeah, I admit he’s just dreaming and says so. I think you and I agree on licensing (and disagree with most people) in that we’d like to see some barriers to entry removed to get more people interested in scootering/motorcycling, but we both also believe in graduated licensing and mandatory education, which few people support.

    Orino, I called dibs on Eric first. I’d just blend his RSS feed right into 2SB if he’d stop with the sightings and reply tweets.

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