On July 24th 1965 Bob Dylan made an importune decision to play at a music festival with a supporting band and amplifiers. On July 25th 1965 Bob Dylan walked off a small stage having played his new single Like a Rolling Stone to a smattering of applause and audible dissatisfaction. A written report capitulating the pulse of the crowd was that Dylan managed to electrify half and his audience and electrocute the other. Having gone electric Dylan changed the cultural landscape and 51 years later has received a Nobel Prize for Literature for his continued efforts both acoustically and electrically.
Subsequently, 1965 was a turbulent confusing time for Dylan fans. It appeared that this new sound was here to stay and they had little control over it. With a new sound to produce and hone into his own making Dylan was unstoppable. Fans were left not knowing whether to go sign up to this or dismiss him as a heretic.
On 17th of November 2016 Piaggio announced that the Vespa is going electric…in 2017. Not as ground breaking as stunning a waiting crowd but still something significant. The specifics of the machine pale in compassion to the act of stating that this is where Piaggio’s future is heading. Again there will be adopters and rejecters. The next few years will be turbulent for fans of anything automotive; electric is coming and appears here to stay.
Piaggio is one of the first global two wheeled manufacturers stating this is their future. The challenges of bringing a useable electric motorcycle to production should not be underestimated. Notably, Harley Davidson have tried going electric with their Liverwire project but ultimately were unable to bring the prototype to production in 2015. Facing an uphill battle all of the way Harley Davidson was constantly swimming against the tide with project Livewire. They are not a company whose brand naturally play to the advantages of electric motors. By producing a bike that could not travel more than 50 miles, makes no noise and is not customisable the Livewire concept left Harley riders feeling cold and not wanting to engage. Known for producing a powerhouse that offers a comfortable customisable machine that you can ride the torque curve of all day long and into the night this is a 180 degree turn in the opposite direction.
For Piaggio going electric plays into their hand. Electric ticks all of the boxes for customers wanting an efficient and stylish travel solution for short distances around cities. Scooters prevalence in cities is unquestionable and an electric one that travels short distances and sits still for many hours (commuting) makes sense. While charging for six hours during the day is then ready for the journey home. Compact and light and not needing to pull large amount of power their range will naturally be superior. Minimal servicing needs with no immediate impact on noise or environmental pollution in cities only strengthens the argument for electric scooters.
The Vespa is an icon that continues to inspire as well as strong holding an established following of people across all generations all of the planet. Harley Davidson with similar appeal unfortunately are catering to an aging population that within the next five to twenty years will not be riding their bikes. Piaggio (with the Vespa) seem to be traversing un-treaded ground by engaging individuals outside of the scooter and motorcycle culture. Evidence that the Vespa has gone where no other two wheeler has gone before (and will continue to do so) is that the announcement of the electric Vespa has be more widely publicised in technology, lifestyle and gadget magazines than that of scooter or motorcycle magazines.
This wide appeal is something motorcycle manufactures are dreaming of and are investing millions into to. To sell units the Ducati Scrambler and Triumph Bonneville continue to be marketed heavily as a lifestyle over that of a product. Opposing this Vespa’s are sold simply as Vespa’s and the lifestyle is created and cultivated by the owners and enthusiasts.
The Vespa in one incarnation or another has been buzzing around the world since 1944 and appears to be going strong and developing strength to strength. Piaggio have a golden ticket into the electric scooter market. Bob Dylan benefited from going electric. He took it and made it his own. Keeping his style but enhancing it with a more powerful sound. Hopefully Piaggio can send a similar shockwave through the two wheeled industry as they go electric.