Opinion: Deja vu all over again
Guess what? Another Lambretta revival is in the offing.
Go to the Lambretta website and click the “Scooters” link, and the page pictured above is what you’ll see, along with a countdown that was over 161 days as this is written.
As you may well know, this is not the first attempt to revive the Lambretta name on a scooter. There was the Adly with Lambretta nameplates. There was the Lambretta LN, built by SYM with modern components under a rather faithfully styled Lambretta body. There’s the Scomadi, which just recently debuted in 200cc guise (modern CVT engine, not the original 2-stroke manual kind).
The ownership of the rights to the Lambretta name being about as clear as mud has been a major hindrance to a Lambretta revival. Scomadi had the good sense not to go there.
You probably know Innocenti was purchased by the trainwreck known as British Leyland in the 1970s; BL took the company out of the scooter business to concentrate on building cars, including a version of the original Mini (upper and lower case, please). You probably also know that scooters from the Lambretta design were produced in India until the mid-1990s by SIL.
I have just one question about this latest revival: WHY???
Zombie brand names are not limited to the scooter biz. There’s Indian, the (I guess) legendary competitor to Harley-Davidson. The original company went bankrupt in 1953; after numerous failed attempts at revival, Polaris Industries (you know, the folks who make snowmobiles and sideXsides) bought the rights to the name in 2011, and have been building and selling motorcycles that, as far as I can tell, are Victorys (also a Polaris joint) with skirted fenders. They seem to sell enough of them, but what exactly is the connection to the original Indian Motorcycle Co.?
Likewise, the attempted revival of the Pontiac GTO in 2004 fell flat on its face because the purists gnashed their teeth and rent their garments at the fact that it didn’t look like a 1965 (or my fave, a 1966) model, while the 20- and 30somethings who were thought likely to snap them up weren’t impressed by cubic inches (see Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer Evo).
At this point nobody knows just what this new Lammy is going to look like, or more importantly, what its configuration will be. Recreating an OG Lambretta down to the last nut and bolt would be hideously expensive (see the Kjack Industries Cushman II), while rebooting the LN would surely cause Jimmy and Steph to gnash their what’s left of their teeth and rend their fishtail parkas.
Nobody seems to realize the number of people who know (or care) about the Lambretta name and its history is small, and shrinks by the year (I’ve been reading a lot of obituaries lately). Lambrettas are good looking, and as I’ve said, often attract non-scooter people who ask, “that’s nice, what is it?”
Granted, a new Lambretta would have a much larger potential audience than the Cushman II, which seems to be of interest only to the three dozen people who want one because a parent or grandparent had one of the originals (coincidentally, that’s how many they’ve sold). But that audience is still small compared to the greater potential market of people who’ve never owned or ridden a scooter, but who could be convinced to do so if approached the right way.
In the U.S., there’s nowhere for the scooter market to go but up. A well-engineered, well-made scooter that’s easy to ride, easy to maintain and supported by a dealer network with an actual interest in customer service and realization of the hand-holding buyers of this ideal scooter are likely to need would do well. Especially if those dealers are supported by a marketing campaign that addressed potential buyers’ concerns about such things as safety. You meet the nicest people on a Honda. On a Harley, maybe not so much.
But nothing like that is going to happen. I will not be holding my breath about this Lambretta reboot, either.
UPDATE, July 9, 2016: The website now says the rollout will happen at EICMA 2016. Surprised? I’m not…