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Piaggio set to be bigger than Suzuki

Published: 25 March 2002

Europe’s biggest bike firm has just signed a deal which will see it snapping at Suzuki’s heels to become the third largest manufacturer in the world.

Scooter giant Piaggio – already owner of Gilera, Vespa and Derbi – has taken control of the MV Agusta group, which includes the Cagiva, Husqvarna and MV brands. It gives Piaggio:

The entire Cagiva range of bikes, which will be re-badged as Gileras.

Access to the world’s greatest bike designer – Massimo Tamburini, creator of the 916 and MV F4S.

The development and production facilities to build a Gilera superbike to rival Ducati’s 998.

A full range of off-roaders in the form of Husqvarna.

The chance to raise its profile in the minds of riders by distributing MV Agustas through an established global dealer chain.

A range of road bikes, scooters and crossers to rival the big Japanese four.

It’s not a bad CV for a firm that is best known for making 50cc scooters.

The deal will see Piaggio take total control of MV Agusta’s Cagiva and Husqvarna subsidiaries and give the firm a 10-15 per cent holding in the MV brand itself.

Currently, all three are controlled by Cagiva founder Claudio Castiglioni, though Piaggio also has a 20 per cent stake, which it bought last year – just after dipping into its vast pockets for Derbi.

Gilera is Piaggio’s biggest priority, as the firm is desperate to break into the big bike market faced, as it is, with dropping scooter sales in Europe.

The Cagiva factory in Varese, along with the firm’s R&D facilities and its range of bikes, will cut years off the time it would otherwise take to make Gilera a major player from scratch.

But the Cagiva name is set to disappear, as Piaggio reckons the Gilera tag is more appealing.

" Gilera is associated with cutting-edge technology, " said a Piaggio spokesman, " and we will develop it into a complete range, established with the Supersport 600 and then moving to naked bikes, tourers and trailies.

" The 600 is due to go into production in September, and that will be the first of many new machines. "

The next model to appear will be based on Cagiva’s naked Raptor. It is no coincidence that the first " big bike " engine Gilera has created is an 850cc V-twin – as tested by MCN two weeks ago – and the test mule is simply a re-engined Raptor.

Before going on sale, the bike will get a facelift under the supervision of Tamburini – who is contracted to Cagiva.

The 90° V-twin sohc motor is already close to production and will be followed by a whole range of motors under development at Piaggio’s base in Milan, including 920 and 650cc versions.

There’s also a 1000cc twin-cam V-twin on the way which will power a new Gilera superbike. Like the single-cam motor, it has a 90° angle between the cylinders and started bench tests last week. No power figures have been released, but its designers are " very happy " with its performance.

One of them told MCN: " The twin-cam revs higher, with more torque farther up the rev range compared to the single-cam engine. "

The bikes they will power will include a big V-twin tourer, probably with a capacity of over 1000cc, as well as trailies based around the Cagiva Navigator chassis.

While we are used to some Italian factories promising bikes that never seem to appear, Piaggio is serious about becoming a major player in world motorcycling.

It’s boss, Stefano Rosselli Del Turco, told MCN that his plan was to overtake Suzuki, the third biggest Japanese manufacturer.

It sounds like his mission is virtually accomplished.

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