Vespa is a well-known brand of Italian scooters that became cultural phenomenon and has fascinated millions of people around the World. As an example of great design and overall experience, Vespa was copied by companies from different countries: England, Germany, the United States, France, USSR, etc. Stylish design, affordable price, ease of maintenance and driving comfort have made Vespa the first successful scooter in the World.
My previous article was about the excellent user experience of a jerrycan, but in the case of the Vespa Scooter I will try to show how Piaggio Company (the creator of Vespa Scooters) amazingly handled UX tasks like learning from iterations, working with user feedback and choosing the right launch time of the product.
Everything began in 1946 when the first version of Vespa came out. The first Vespa 98 (1946) set high bar in scooters making. People used to have massive and loud motorcycles which had nothing to do with quiet and elegant scooters. Also, the price of the scooter (around $42 U.S) was much smaller than the cost of a regular motorcycle and it greatly helped Vespa to become the most famous scooter in the World.
Let’s take a closer look at what engineers did to make the first version so attractive that Vespa Scooter captured the attention of the whole World.
As you can see on the image above, first Vespa brought a solid body to the game where a driver could put legs while driving. Also, the body had a relatively large mudguard to protect a rider from dirt and water. The scooter had a small-diameter wheel that gave manoeuvrability and better control. Moreover, small size of the wheels made it possible to carry one spare wheel. All these features worked especially well in post-war Europe where roads were destroyed or badly damaged. Vespa released the scooter right after the Second World War and probably it was the best time to launch a vehicle with these set of features. If you didn’t know, before joining scooters market Piaggio Company was making locomotives and railway carriages, anti-submarine motorboats, aeroplanes and seaplanes, buses and trucks. Everything has changed after WW2 when they started to diversify the company’s activities from the military sector to mass market production of scooters.
Imagine how revolutionary the first scooter’s prototype was that it went straight to mass production. Of course, before production, there were a few versions of the prototype, but the main differences between them were the placement of the controls and improvements in the engine’s cooling system.
Three years after the first launch, Vespa Company did several significant changes to the scooter and released an improved version ( they’ve had minor improvements of Vespa 98 before this release). It was Vespa 125 which was launched in 1949. The most wanted thing they presented was maximum speed that was increased from 60 kph to 70 kph. Also, they’ve completely changed the cooling system and added a hook for hanging a bag below the seat. The most significant changes have been made to the internal system of the scooter, but it still was lacking a stand “leg” which was added later to this version as an additional part.
Let’s explore in detail these two things. From the first perspective, a hook for a bag and a stand “leg” are not the most important features of the scooter, but it’s true only if you never used to drive a motorcycle before. If you’re buying a scooter today, you’re looking at several features like power of the engine, fuel economy and size of the luggage compartment. It’s impressive to see how people's needs have changed over time. Today, you cannot even imagine getting a bike without a stand “leg,” it’s insane to look for a wall each time when you need to park it. Also, it’s hard to imagine not to have space for baggage. But in 1949 needs were different. The most important things at that time were durability, ease in maintenance, availability of repair parts. Here we can see a famous phrase in action: “Design is never done.” They’ve added these features only 3 years after the original launch what means constant improvements of the product.
In the following years, Vespa continued to release scooters every year with minor improvements. They have been doing the same as BMW, or Mercedes is doing these days, releasing updated model each year and making a major update once per three years. Even companies like Apple already switched to this release cycle. Also, after 10 years of being on the market, Vespa has reached 1 million sold vehicles. In 1956 they had 3 scooters in a model line: 125cc, 150cc and the 150cc GS. Even here we can see some similarity between companies. For example, iPhone has 3 different models, and each model serves different needs. Everyone can choose a model that will give the best experience. That’s exactly what we can learn from the past. Many companies already succeed in product selling, and we just need to explore their experience. It shouldn’t be the same field, and it’s even better if you will choose the company from another market to learn from. Just imagine how many small local companies succeeded in selling goods in the twentieth century. We have access to all these information and I encourage you explore it deeply.
Besides regular releases, Vespa Company didn’t hesitate to make some experimental models of the scooter. During the first ten years, Vespa released two “racing scooters” which were distinguished by their futuristic design and were created to set world speed records.
Plus, they had a military scooter (or “Bazooka Vespa”) which was built especially for The French Ministry of Defence. They produced 600 units of this vehicle. Furthermore in 1957 Vespa Company made a two-seat rear-engined microcar VESPA 400 and sold around 30,000 units of the car in less than four years.
As you can see they didn’t want to stuck with one model, they always have been trying to push boundaries with available technologies. It is critical to be sure that you’re regularly exploring something new, even with technologies you have. For instance, Vespa used regular production model of the scooter to create a military version. It wasn’t necessary for them to built it from scratch, spend tons of money and hope that this model will be successful. Instead, they took a model they had, modified it by adding M20 75mm recoilless rifle, reinforced frame, cart, two cans of fuel and produced it in camouflage colours. The Parachute Corps and Foreign Legion have used this model; the price was around $500.
Of course, the design of new Vespa is thought out to the smallest details. Today the scooter is equipped with the Anti-lock braking system and a digital display, and some internal systems have switched to electronic. In 2018 Vespa looks more like a futuristic vehicle, but at the same time, the scooter is a lot like its famous predecessor. And when you see it from above, Vespa still looks like a wasp. The popularity of the Vespa brand is phenomenal because for so many years of history no other scooter could even come close to its success. Vespa forever remained not just a scooter, but a lifestyle.