Benelli go large

Historic Italian brand set to return to the big league thanks to China

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Benelli is about to blast back into the big time with an impressive range of bikes from 125cc to 750cc. Eleven years ago, Italian manufacturer Benelli was bought by the Chinese Qianjiang group after suffering financial issues. Since that point the firm has remained relatively quiet as behind the scenes Qianjiang worked on stabilising the company and building smaller-capacity bikes under the Benelli brand. Now, with things back on an even keel, Qianjiang are ready to launch a flurry of bigger bikes.

“We have really big plans for Benelli in 2017 to expand our range to appeal to European tastes,” confirmed Haimei Yan, Benelli’s General Manager. “We currently only have the 302, the new 251 and the 600 so we can’t say we have the range at the moment to appeal to the European market. But at the end of the year we will show a far more complete range going from 125cc to 750cc. This will include the 500, a new 600 model and also a new parallel-twin 750cc, aimed directly at Europe. We are also working on giving new life to the three cylinder 899 and 1200 engines.”

While this may sound ambitious, Qianjiang is one of the biggest motorcycle builders in China, producing over one million bikes a year – of which around 50,000 are currently Benelli branded with only 5000 exported to Europe. The group has several other brands for the domestic market and a complete portfolio of products that can easily be rebranded Benelli.

“Qianjiang has a very different resource to European motorcycle manufacturers,” confirms Yan. “If you look at them they only have larger bikes, no scooters and few smaller-capacity machines. Piaggio have scooters, but it splits its brands. Qianjiang has all the resources and makes scooters and motorcycles, it has a complete range from 125cc to 1200cc to appeal to a worldwide market. Only really Honda and Yamaha have a similar range and we are the only Chinese manufacturer who builds this variety of bikes. We have scooters, a 125cc and 250c single, 300cc and 500cc parallel twins, 600cc inline four, a new 750cc parallel twin and the 899 and 1200 triples.”

But with the vast majority of its bikes being built in China, can Benelli really still be viewed as an Italian brand?

“Benelli’s heritage is very important to us and it is still an Italian brand,” says Yan. “We do all the research, design and development in Italy and the Chinese manufacture the product, although the three cylinder Benellis will still be built in Italy. All the new motorcycle technology is coming from Europe, especially Italy, and they have more creativity than the Chinese, but the Chinese are very good at manufacturing. That’s why Benelli works so well. We also believe that we can match the Japanese when it comes to quality.”

With Benelli’s heritage so firmly set in the sportsbike world, is it possible we will see a new Benelli sportsbike in the future?

“The sportsbike market is reducing, so you can’t bet your life on it. We want to make a 1200cc three-cylinder engine suitable for all uses, just making a focused sportsbike is too small a market at the moment,” said Yan. “But when the moment is right, I think Benelli will be on a race track again.”