On the fly

On the fly

Get rid of your bakkies and cut up those petrol cards, because Vespa – yes, that “luxury lifestyle” brand of two-wheeled fun – now has a commercial vehicle option to suit almost any need. GAVIN MYERS goes riding…

I’m quite sure the moment you opened this page your immediate reaction was that the team here at FOCUS must have completely lost its collective set of marbles. But while there may well be an element of truth to that (we aren’t quite a full box…) we were also slightly confuzzled after hearing of this concept. So, following my best journalistic instinct, a crash helmet was readied and the code 10 left behind.

But first a dash of history. The Vespa was originally built as cheap transport for the Italian masses in 1946, following World War II. The brand was previously in South Africa before manufacturer Piaggio joined sanctions against the then Apartheid government. Happily, though, it was brought back to South Africa 10 years ago by local entrepreneur Andy Reid, after he stumbled on to the opportunity of running the local agency due to his difficulty in buying a Vespa directly from Piaggio in Italy.

Debbie McCallum, Vespa sales manager, says the brand’s done nicely since returning to South Africa, despite having the image of a lifestyle product. And what a lovely little lifestyle product it is. So much so that, during my visit, a potential client contacted McCallum to enquire about buying one as a Christmas present for his daughter.

However, the great thing is you can now spoil your employees like that. No, I don’t mean buy them a Vespa for their birthday (though I’m sure they’d love you if you did), but rather for easing the daily drudge of making local deliveries. “Five years ago we saw a gap to offer Vespa to the commercial delivery market,” says McCallum. “One reason being that there’s always a demand for delivery vehicles, but also for good quality delivery vehicles.” Vespa offers its 150, 250 and – if the client really wants one – a 300 cm3 scooter for the purpose.

FOCUS’s Gavin Myers samples Vespa’s rider academy with Vespa rider trainer Torsten Neuendorf.McCallum consults the customer and identifies factors, such as what, how far and how often they have to deliver – and what their budget is; and Vespa offers its corporate clients a 17 percent discount on the purchase price.

But there’s yet more to it than that. Corporates are offered options when buying, the first being either a cash or finance deal. And because Vespa is recognised as a delivery scooter on South Africa’s eNatis system, businesses can claim back the VAT paid – provided it’s got a windscreen and a box on the back, notes McCallum.

“What one has to consider when purchasing such a vehicle is the initial price versus the intended period of use for the vehicle: how long you want it to last,” says McCallum, as she relates the story of a local pharmacy that has been using a Vespa for its deliveries since before any of us in the stylish Fourways, Johannesburg, showroom were born.

Another option is Vespa’s new Full Driver Solution, an attempt to address the problem of those clients with no licensed drivers on their staff. Drivers can be nominated and Vespa will take the buyer’s employee through its rider academy, plus facilitate licence bookings.

That leads nicely on to another option: the rental solution. Vespa’s latest, novel offering is based on the required model and the mileage to be covered each month, the fixed rental fee (including rental of the bike) plus a rider, fuel, maintenance, insurance, fines and a Geotab tracking/management system. The main advantage of the package is that there’s absolutely no risk or responsibility attached to the client. McCallum says client Sureswipe was given two Vespas on trial, which they have now bought (plus employing the drivers), with two more on order.

Choosing this option sorts out your maintenance worries, but Vespa also has a customer covered if it buys outright, offering a fully-capped maintenance plan. This is a current calculation and value on all the parts required to cover maintenance for 80 000 km worth of use. “If anything mechanical breaks down within the vehicle’s guaranteed 80 000 km life, it’s covered,” says McCallum.  “We work on a preventative maintenance plan, so at the various service intervals within that
80 000 km period we show the customer what needs to be done, what we have done and how we cost it.” Of course, it’s Vespa’s risk. But they will replace everything as and when it’s needed – from blown engines (if that’s even possible with a Vespa) to tyres.

All very well and good… but how much can someone do with a mere scooter? Quite a lot, actually. In fact, you’d be pretty gob-smacked. Apart from the large surface area of the bikes providing scope for them to become eye-catching mobile billboards, their application potential is what really surprises. McCallum explains: “Savino de Bene, one of our tyre suppliers, who also supplies a lot of South Africa’s high street tyre franchises, found a lot of its clients were losing business because sometimes they couldn’t deliver on time.

“For example, if a customer drove in to change his tyres and they didn’t have replacements in stock they would lose the business. Now, within 45 minutes, Savino will deliver that full set of tyres.” Using a Vespa? Yes. The concept was designed and engineered (both locally) around the need to transport a full set of SUV-sized tyres. I’m told ridability isn’t even affected; the bikes are fully balanced and don’t need to be upgraded in any way.

The possibilities seem almost endless… surfboard or bicycle racks, why not? Blood sample transportation (Lancet Laboratories just happens to be one of Vespa’s biggest customers) or same-day courier deliveries? Any time – literally!

Considered the world’s safest scooter (the definition of which is that the rider’s legs are together, not straddled, as on a motorbike), a Vespa chassis is a single, solid monocoque allowing for great strength and durability. The engine is locked underneath the seat and not exposed at all, while an electronic immobiliser keeps the bike safe. There’s storage space aplenty for the rider’s paraphernalia, with some models featuring a cubby hole under the handlebar.

And riding a Vespa couldn’t be easier: it’s a simple case of twist and go. I rode the full range on offer and, true to its name – Vespa means wasp in Italian – each buzzed around with light, manoeuvrable, quick, nimble and extremely economical (at 30 to 35 km/l) intent.

I know it might sound as though I’ve lost my marbles and have been converted from four wheels to two, but what other delivery vehicle in South Africa fulfils those criteria in such a unique way?

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