Exclusive: Piaggio boss chats to MCN
Two years ago Piaggio UK’s Managing Director, Tony Campbell, was racing against Dani Pedrosa. Here he gives MCN his first press interview.
The Piaggio Group’s ambitions for global domination and the host of iconic Italian marques under its wings make it one of the most exciting brands in the bike world.
As the new Piaggio MP3 (three wheeled scooter) is launched we went to find out what Campbell’s biking credentials are and where he sees the Piaggio group in the UK market.
MCN: What’s your biking background?
TC: When I was 16 I bought a Yamaha FS1E and have never looked back. Since then I’ve owned a Yamaha RD350LC, a Honda NC30, a Kawasaki ZX-7R, an Aprilia RSV-Mille and a Suzuki GSX-R1000. However, it wasn’t until I was 34-years-old that I started to take my racing career seriously.
MCN: Were you a successful bike racer?
TC: Two years ago I raced against Dani Pedrosa at the British GP at Donington Park. However, the highlight of my career was out braking Alex De Angelis coming into the Foggy Esses.
I’ve had to give up racing because I’m just too busy and it’s impossible to juggle both balls. As the UK boss of Piaggio I’m sure I could phone up head-office in Italy to sort me out a few laps on an Aprilia 250cc GP bike but I’m trying not to get bitten by the racing bug again.
MCN: So are you the fastest bike boss in the world?
TC: Most definitely – all the other bike managers are puppies. Mark Davies (Manager of Honda UK) is good on a dirt bike but I’d happily lay down the gauntlet on a sports bike.
MCN: Can you help get us a British champion in Moto GP?
TC: Next year we are supporting the ACU Motostar Cup by supplying an all-in-one package to help young riders get into the sport. Together with the ACU we have developed a low-cost proposition which gives riders a fully-prepared Derbi GPR 125RR race bike, full training, entry fees for the season as well as tyres and lubricants.
MCN: Are you concerned about the rise of cheap Chinese imports in 50cc and 125cc market?
TC: The impact has definitely been felt but the UK consumer is brand aware and sceptical. I think the 50cc market is where the real fight will be with Internet sites offering incredible bargains.
We’re lucky to have a cult brand like Vespa which will always be in demand and hold its value. Vespa is the Harley-Davidson of the scooter world. If any brand was immune from Chinese imitation scooters it’s Vespa.
However, we are doing something to counteract the threat. For example, the Piaggio Zip is £300 cheaper this year to make it more competitive.
However, I’ll tell you now – there will be no supermarket style price war with the Chinese.
MCN: Will there be more unity with the various brands under the Piaggio umbrella?
TC: Within the next three years you will see Piaggio dealers in the same way that you see Honda dealers.
Under the same roof will be scooters from Vespa, Gilera and Piaggio and motorbikes from Derbi, Aprilia and Moto Guzzi. Piaggio has a range that rivals the Japanese manufacturers.
MCN: Any plans to revive the Laverda brand?
TC: I grew up lusting after a Laverda Jota so I’d love to see them make a return. However, I can confirm there are currently no plans to revive the marque.
MCN: Has the congestion charge increased scooter and bike sales in London?
TC: When Ken Livingstone increased the Congestion Charge to £8 we saw sales increase.
However, the picture is slightly confused because it happened at a similar time to the London bombings on July 7 which also increased bike and scooter sales.
A £10 Congestion Charge would be good news for us. People won’t be forced onto our substandard public transport system so powered two wheelers are still the best alternative.
MCN: The third European Driving Licence Directive is going to make it harder for young people to get on two-wheels – how can Piaggio encourage the bikers of tomorrow to ride?
TC: It’s harder in the UK, in Europe people have been riding since they were 14-years-old. Send us your pictures, videos and articles to appear on motorcyclenews.com. Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org People have a real thing about two-wheels that they can’t get over. This is the reason Piaggio launched the MP3 (Piaggio’s three-wheeled scooter).
I got a chance to test ride the prototype on an Italian race track and it was incredible. I was braking at full lean with my knee down and it was completely stable.
Over diesel spills and wet man-hole covers it’s so as safe as a car but you can cut through the London traffic like on a scooter.
MCN: Do you believe the Government has a secret agenda against motorcycles?
TC: I certainly don’t believe in conspiracy theories – the motorcycle industry employs too many people for the Government to want to end it.
However, I don’t like the DfT’s new Think Bike TV campaign. I can imagine parents who see that would say: “Right, no scooter young lad!” A German colleague of mine saw that advert and thought it was an Internet joke – he still doesn’t believe me that the UK government had produced it.