Sun, 13 Jul 2003

Indonesia the haven for Italy's invention

Reliability, practicality and now style have made Indonesia home to more Vespas than anywhere else in the world.

When they were first imported, and for most of their production, the ability of Vespas to navigate tough roads and traffic, while loaded with goods and keeping their riders clean have made them a popular choice.

Now though, the Vespas continued prominence in Indonesia owes as much to its unique, sleek Italian design and the growing desire for classic and modified scooters, as it does to its continuing reliability.

The legend of this international icon began in 1946, as former airplane producer Enrico Piaggo sought to create a vehicle that could get around Italy's war-torn roads. One of his employees, Corradino D'Ascanio, a former helicopter designer, designed a simple, robust, and economical vehicle that was also comfortable, elegant and that people, including women, could drive without getting dirty.

Piaggo named the two wheeled, 98 cc and two stroke engine powered vehicle Vespa, the Italian for wasp. The popularity of the scooters grew rapidly in post-war Europe and in 10 years over a million had been produced.

In Indonesia sales, beginning with importer PT Viola in 1961, increased rapidly in the 1960s, and in 1968 an important and lasting relationship was reached between Danmotors Vespa Indonesia and Piaggo.

In 1970 Dan Danmotors Vespa produced its first Vespas in its current headquarters on Jl. Perintis Kemerdekaan, North Jakarta. While similar agreements in Indian and Taiwan resulted in lesser quality copied models, and broken agreements that led to Piaggo suing some manufacturers, Indonesian-produced Vespas earned a reputation for quality.

Today, Vespa aficionados and scooter online groups in North America and Europe rave about the quality of both vintage and modern Indonesian-produced model.

While the Vespa boom in North America and Europe of the 1960s was largely fueled by the scooters' association with a youthful, carefree culture, in Indonesia the popularity and sales of Vespas grew based on its practicality and affordability.

The same models that were sold to teens as a cool sign of independence in the West were marketed and sold to Indonesian families that needed a safe and reliable vehicle to carry children and goods on rough roads.

Equipped with an extra tire, two luggage compartments, a comfortable passenger seat, and a mudguard that kept riders clean on dusty roads, the Vespa was particularly well suited to meet the expanding needs of Indonesians. Spare vespa parts and mechanics were available throughout Indonesia, and the scooters earned a reputation for being cheap and easy to fix.

Riding the fit between the scooter and the needs of its rapidly developing consumers, the 1980 and 1990s saw Indonesia become home to more Vespas than anywhere else in the world, including Italy.

From 1984 to 1997 Danmotors produced about 60,000 units per year, and employed 800 people at its factory alone, and exported Vespas to Argentina, Nigeria and Southeast Asia, said R. Soewandi, current assistant manager of production at Danmotors Vespa Italindo, and an employee since 1968.

Despite it's widespread popularity during this period, very few Vespa owners became enthusiasts, who admired the style and flare of Vespas and whose means of transport became a part of their lifestyle. The establishment of the Jakarta Vespa Club in 1979 marked the beginning of the trend that is expanding rapidly in Indonesia in which riders celebrate classic vespas and modify their own rides.

Throughout production at Danmotors minor mechanical and electrical improvements have been made as technology improved, but the frame, shape and two stroke engine of Vespas have remained constant. Despite their reputation as functional workhorses, the sales of Vespas plummeted in 1997 due to the country's economic crisis.

This and growing competition from Japanese competitors have cut Vespa sales and production dramatically. "We now sell about 6,000 units a year and employ about 185 people," said Danmotors marketing manager Titus T.P. Sali.

"We can't, and don't compete with Japanese motorbikes. Our market is specialized."

It is hoping to boost sales soon with the introduction of a classic-style Vespa, with a round halogen headlamp and classic simple headbars, that it will launch at the upcoming Gaikindo Auto Exposition in Jakarta on July 19-July 27.

"Our existing models have been improved and produced for a while, so we wanted to introduce something new that would remind people of the classic Vespas," said Titus.

-- Jock Paul