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You may be aware of Piaggio as a brand of scooters, but as a group it owns Aprilia, Derbi, Gilera, Moto Guzzi, Vespa, and the currently unused Laverda names, making it the fourth largest producer of two-wheeled vehicles in the world.
As with MV Agusta and Moto Guzzi, the emergence of Piaggio as a scooter and motorcycle brand came from an already-established aircraft business. Following World War 2, Enrico Piaggio jumped into simple, robust and affordable transport with the legendary Vespa scooter, producing over a million in the first ten years. In 1959 it came under the control of car maker Fiat SpA which split the aircraft and motorcycle divisions, and in 1969 the Gilera brand was purchased, as Piaggio continued to thrive with Vespa up until the turn of the century.
In 1999 it was bought by Morgan Grenfell Private Equity but the firm floundered until Italian entrepreneur Roberto Colaninno invested 100 million Euros in Piaggio in 2003 for just under a third of the company and the mandate to run it. The turnaround included redesigning the factory, improving productivity whilst retaining all employees and focusing on profit margins and customer satisfaction. After successfully turning the company around, Calninno directed the takeover of Aprilia and with it Moto Guzzi, before Piaggio was floated on the Milan Stock Exchange in 2006.
The Piaggio range includes the Vespa brand of retro scooters, and Piaggio scooter models ranging from 50cc to 500cc with the likes of the Z9, and BV500. The popular Piaggio Ape three-wheeled light commercial vehicle was first made in 1948, and has been produced ever since, and in 2006 they reversed the concept with the three-wheeled MP3 in 125cc, 250cc, 400cc and 500cc versions (The 500cc models is the Gilera Fuoco 500 in Europe and the Piaggio MP3 500 in the U.S). In 2009 the wider MP3 LT 400 was launched which can be driven on a UK car licence. There’s also a plug-in Hybrid 125cc model launched in 2009.