Sambuy named to head Piaggio’s U.S. operations
May 19, 2004
Filed under Features
A change in a company’s executive position often means that the former leadership wasn’t able to live up to the expectations set forth by top management. While Giancarlo Fantappie, the former president of Piaggio USA, left North America in late February, Costantino Sambuy, Piaggio’s new president in the U.S., says the change in leadership was simply a part of how the Italian firm does business.
“Giancarlo has not been downgraded; he is still with the company, working in Europe,” Sambuy told Powersports Business. “Piaggio has a policy of three to four year assignments. I’d been in the UK for four years, and Giancarlo was here (in the U.S.) since 1999.”
Sambuy served as marketing director in the UK, where he says he worked to expand the market, primarily by changing consumer attitude toward scooters. “The main job,” he said, “was making our scooters more viable and acceptable. We took over an importer in 1992 who was moving about 600 units a year. We started the subsidiary and, by 2002, we were moving about 30,000 units per year with a market share of 36%.
“I see a similar type of situation here in the U.S.,” he said.
Sambuy’s first official day with Piaggio USA was March 1. Since then, he said, he has been “drawing a plan” with two objectives: 1) to bolster Piaggio and Vespa brand awareness, and 2) to increase dealer profitability.
“I’m building the plan under the assumptions that the scooter is seen as a cheap form of transportation, but that it also serves as a lifestyle accessory,” Sambuy said. “Those are really two different markets, so what I would like to do is make sure that we’re serving them both to the best of our abilities.”
Although the Italy-based Piaggio Group owns Piaggio, Vespa, Gilera and Derbi brands, Piaggio USA currently imports only Piaggio and Vespa product. The Piaggio product was initially to be sold from powersports dealers, while the Vespa were to be retailed from exclusive boutiques (of which there are currently 62). However, while Piaggio USA attempted to keep the Piaggio and Vespa dealers separate, there are Vespa boutiques now carrying Piaggio product.
Fantappie, three days before he left, told Powersports Business that Piaggio brand scooters had not made the desired impact in the U.S. market, and said he was debating moving the Piaggio product from powersports dealers into Vespa boutiques.
Sambuy explained his view of the situation: “We have some boutiques that are considered viable to sell Piaggio, that have a market for Piaggio, but, for the time being, I am reconsidering Piaggio product in the U.S. There is currently no dealer development, and I’m going to refocus our plan for that brand.
“We have dealers from all sorts of backgrounds – motorcycle, automobile, fashion – and so we’re really trying to get everyone focused on the business at hand before we begin a second wave of expansion,” he said.
While Sambuy says he has not had enough time to come up with a formal plan for the firm he now heads, he says a part of Piaggio USA’s future lays in the new product to be introduced in the coming year – a 200cc Vespa scooter which, he says, may pave the way for even larger machines.
Piaggio USA currently offers U.S. consumers the 50cc, two-stroke Vespa ET2 (MSRP $2999); 150cc, four-stroke Vespa ET4 ($3999); 50cc, two-stroke Piaggio LT50 ($2199); 150cc, four-stroke LT150 ($3399); and 200cc, four-stroke BV200 ($4299).
“The new Vespa model was already released as a 125cc and 200cc in Europe and is expected here as a 200cc by the end of 2003, early 2004,” Sambuy said. “As for a larger unit, I can’t tell you which you will see in the U.S., but we will be bringing one model into the country.”