The Beginnings and the Naval Sector
It is 5th September 1882 when Enrico Piaggio finalises the acquisition of some land at Sestri Ponente, Genoa, to build a timber factory there for naval supplies. Enrico's young son Rinaldo almost immediately starts to work at his side and as soon as 1887 he breaks away from his father to form Piaggio & C., choosing ship outfitting as the main field of action.
The company in Sestri Ponente is modern, efficient, mechanised. Piaggio's first goal is achieved in 1889, the year in which all the most important ships launched from the Ligurian shipyards are outfitted with Piaggio furnishings.
The Years of Aeronautic Production
1920 signals a new company set-up for Piaggio, with Attilio Odero as company President and Rinaldo Piaggio Managing Director.
The plants in Pisa, Sestri and Finale Marina come together to form the new company. Rinaldo Piaggio is firmly decided on developing the aeronautic sector. So, he takes on engineers Giovanni Pegna and Giuseppe Gabrielli (who is to be succeeded by Giovanni Casiraghi), assigning them the project for a first Rondine aircraft prototype. There are to be several prototypes produced in the years to come and in 1924, with the purchase of the Pontedera plant, engine and vehicle production begins no longer on licence but with their own patents.
Many engines will be produced (around 16 between the 20s and 40s), but that leap in quality which would have legitimised the passage to mass production was missing. In the meantime, while it is mainly the railway sector which records the best results, Rinaldo Piaggio's sons, Armando and Enrico, join the company. The years between 1935 and 1940 herald success: exports grow sharply, as does the number of staff which grows by 415% between 1934 and 1939. Piaggio starts to produce for practically the whole transport sector: cableways, funicular railways, trailers, tramways, lorries, trolley buses, just failing to start working alongside another company to enter the automobile sector. In 1938 Rinaldo Piaggio dies and his two sons succeed him in the role of managing director. The war experience is very negative for Piaggio: the Pontedera plant is destroyed by bombing and the production units in Pisa and Finale damaged.
The Vespa Phenomenon
The two Piaggio brothers take on different roles in the company. While Armando deals with the production units in Genoa-Sestri and Finale Ligure, dedicated above all to the aeronautic and railway activities, Enrico dedicates himself to the plants in Pisa and Pontedera, with an ambitious plan in mind: to help motorise the Italian population by creating a simple low-cost vehicle which enjoyable by all. In order to do this, he uses the collaboration of Corradino D'Ascanio, an ingenious aeronautic designer who designed the first modern helicopter. A first Vespa prototype was produced in Pontedera in April 1946 and was put on the market straight away.
After an initial lukewarm welcome, already at the end of 1947 production started to take off. It is an enormous and unprecedented success. In ten years, around one million models will be built and sold abroad almost immediately. The decision is taken to dedicate the Pontedera plant exclusively to Vespa, which is now Piaggio's best-selling product. While the exportation of innovative outboard marine engine, is created. 1957 is the year of the Vespa 400, Piaggio's first and only attempt in the utilities field, which failed due to insufficient demand. But these are above all the Vespa years: the vehicle signals mass motorisation and by 1965 more than three million models will have already been produced. With the construction of the "Leonardo da Vinci", the great season of building transatlantic ships comes to an end and the aeronautic sector also shows signs of crisis. In 1964 the company is split into I.A.M. Rinaldo Piaggio (the aeronautic and railway sectors) and Piaggio & C. (Scooters).
The Years of Product Diversification
In 1965, on the death of Enrico Piaggio, Umberto Agnelli succeeds to the presidency of Piaggio & C.
1967 signals the birth of Ciao, the head of the family of modern mopeds. In 1969, Gilera in Arcore, one of the oldest motorbike producers in Europe, famous above all for their sporting a whole new line of products, amongst which the 1973 Bravo moped and also tractors. In 1979 the new Società Piaggio Adriatica S.p.A. of Lanciano is constituted, with their plant in Atessa. In the meantime, the number of employees grows, reaching a peak in 1980. After the acquisition of Bianchi (1981), at the end of the 1980s Piaggio records a small crisis in the Vespa, which is absorbed by the introduction of new vehicles such as Cosa, Superbravo, Grillo and ApeCar D, all launched between 1987 and 1988. In 1988, Gustavo Denegri becomes the new Piaggio president, with Giovanni Alberto Agnelli on the board of directors.
The evolution of the Group
The Piaggio & C. holding was set up as the company entered the 1990s, with Giovanni Alberto Agnelli nominated Chairman of Piaggio Veicoli Europei S.p.A. In 1990 new vehicles were launched - an updated three-speed Vespa 50cc, the four wheel Ape Poker commercial vehicle and particularly the Sfera, the first plastic scooter to be made in Pontedera. Technological progress led to the launch of other new scooters such as the Quartz, Zip and Skipper and - in 1994 - the Hexagon, a landmark in the maxi scooter segment. The Gilera brand was also very successful, launching sport scooters such as the Typhoon and Runner. In 1996, the fiftieth anniversary of Enrico Piaggio and Corradino D'Ascanio's revolutionary product was marked by the launch of the new Vespa with the ET4 125cc model, followed a few months later by the ET2 50cc.
After the premature death of Giovanni Alberto Agnelli on 13th December 1997 the Piaggio Group, headed by Chairman Alessandro Barberis (followed by Dante Razzano in 2001) and CEO Stefano Rosselli Del Turco, initiated a change in company ownership. The transition took place at the end of 1999, with financial group Morgan Grenfell Private Equity acquiring the company.
The Present and the Future
The year 2000 marked Piaggio's entry into the prestigious maxi scooter segment - until then the exclusive territory of the Japanese manufacturers - with its revolutionary X9 250. On 15th November the same year, Piaggio USA inaugurated its first Vespa Boutique in Los Angeles - an event that marked the return of Piaggio and the Vespa to the United States, where over 60 Vespa Boutiques have opened so far.
In 2001 the Piaggio Group incorporated Derbi-Nacional Motor S.A., the historical Spanish company founded in 1922 with headquarters in Martorelles (Barcelona) and leader of the small-displacement motorcycle sector. The same year, Gilera made a victorious return to the world motorcycling championship, with Manuel Poggiali winning the 125cc world championship title on his Gilera and thereby taking Gilera's record to six world manufacturer titles and seven rider titles. Gilera and Poggiali came close to repeating this feat in 2002, with Poggiali placing second at the end of the championship after having fought to the last.
As regards company ownership, on 23rd October 2003 the Piaggio Group entered a significant new phase with transfer of ownership and management of company activities in Italy and abroad to Immsi S.p.A., an industrial and property holding quoted on the Milan Stock Exchange, owned by entrepreneur Roberto Colaninno. The management changed on the same day, with Roberto Colaninno, nominated Chairman of the Piaggio Group and Rocco Sabelli Group CEO.
The Group continues its projects in terms of product innovation and has consolidated its European leadership as a result of its extraordinary brand portfolio and a wide range of safe, high-performance, environment-friendly 50 to 500cc vehicles that respond to customer requirements.
These include top-of-the-range products such as the Piaggio X9 Evolution and X8, the Piaggio Beverly and the Gilera Nexus 500 that bridge the gap between the motorcycle and the scooter. these products, and the successful new Vespa Granturismo, launched in 2003 in a further evolution of the world's legendary best-known scooter, prove the constant and ongoing commitment to stylistic and technological innovation that motivates every single employee of the Piaggio Group.