Opinion: No 350, no problem
In an exclusive story posted Sunday, ScooterFile reported Piaggio’s long-rumored plan to base a new Vespa GTS on the Piaggio BV 350’s engine will, in fact, not come to pass. Please indulge me as I don my pundit’s hat and offer a bit of speculation as to why.
As the Scooter File piece points out, Piaggio’s 350 engine simply won’t fit in the present GTS’ monocoque. It’s too long, for starters. A whole new structure would have to be designed, one closer in size to the BV 350, to allow for suspension movement, service access and other considerations.
It wouldn’t be difficult to design a scooter that fits within the rather limited Vespa design language. Thirteen-inch wheels could maintain the proportions, though the necessary pressed-steel monocoque could end up being rather heavy.
In that case, a GTS 350 would go against the idea that a Vespa is small and nippy. And for that matter, easy to park. It would approach the size and weight of a Suzuki Burgman.
In the car world, MINI (all caps please, still) is running into this problem. The BMW fashion accessory division just introduced a new Clubman wagon that is—there’s no other way to say this—quite large. There are jokes throughout the auto industry about an upcoming MINI full-size SUV, but the fact remains, the part of the original design brief that called for accommodating four adults within a 10-foot form factor went out the window a long time ago. MINIs are no longer, um, mini.
A GTS 350 wouldn’t be cheap, either. The least-expensive current GTS goes for $6,599 plus freight, tax, license, setup and negotiable doc fee. A GTS 350 might be a bit too rich for the blood of its most likely customers, or more importantly, too close to the price of things like Ducati Scramblers and KTM 390 Dukes.
Consider also, the drumbeat for more cubic centimeters outside of North America is rather faint, if it exists at all. The present GTS engine is not a 300, but a 278. A new cylinder barrel with a millimeter or so larger bore could bump displacement up closer to the three century mark, though remapping of the ECU and tweaking of exhaust porting might be needed to realize a significant increase in power or torque. In Europe, 300 is a large market segment that doesn’t seem to support a horsepower race.
In its 2014 annual report Piaggio Group noted sales of 169,000 Vespa-branded scooters worldwide, and a North American market that accounted for sales of 20,000 scooters (one assumes that includes Scarabeo in addition to Vespa and Piaggio).
That’s not a lot of bikes, folks.
Especially when you’re trying to amortize the costs of designing and manufacturing a new one. That’s one reason Vespa’s product cycles are so long.
When you design a new vehicle of any kind, you also have to design the process of building it. You’ll need new dies for the 10-ton presses, and you’ll need to reprogram the robots that weld the frames together. Among many, many other things. That stuff costs. And those costs are difficult to recoup with small volumes.
I’m guessing someone at Piaggio realized people like the present GTS and its variants just fine. If the costs of designing and manufacturing it have been amortized (or are close to it), every one they build after that is pure profit. That’s why Ford Motor Company kept building Crown Vics and Lincoln Town Cars for so long—the sale price went straight to the bottom line, even though they were only sold to police departments, taxi operators and rental companies. There is no urgency for a GTS replacement.
Piaggio can keep cranking out special editions of the 946 darn near forever, because people with 10 grand burning a hole in their pockets don’t care that it’s slow, or heavy, or whatever. Same deal with the GTS.
Something Piaggio is going to have to do is meet ever-tightening emissions standards in the U.S., Europe and Asia. It would therefore seem reasonable for them to design a new 300 engine. You can only tweak existing ones so long before starting from scratch becomes easier. Europe has just introduced Euro 6; the U.S. will be adopting California emissions standards nationwide sometime soon.
And as long as the dimensions and mounting points are the same, or at least similar, fitting a new 300 engine to the current GTS would be cake. Piaggio did it before with the 150 3-valve, fitting it to the Vespa LX and S in their final two years of production.
A new 300 engine would not be exclusive to the GTS; it would eventually find its way into Piaggio’s other scooters, the not-for-U.S.-sale Scarabeo 300 being one of them. Remember what I said about amortizing costs… the more widgets you build, the lower your cost per widget.
That’s my 154 Guinea francs. What do you think?