The professionals: Massimo Granata

Massimo Granata, Aprilia UK’s general manager talks frankly about difficult times, spare parts, the NEW V4 and dealing with Italians

How big is Aprilia in the UK RIGHT NOW?

Market share-wise we are just 3.2% of the market. We have been considerably bigger, but we’ve been through some troubled times in the last few years. So far we are up 20% up on 2007, so we’re getting closer to Triumph and BMW. In terms of over all registrations, including scooters, we are bigger than KTM and Ducati. We sell between 5,000 and 6,000 bikes in 2008 in the UK.

So what was the cause of those troubled times?

In 2001 Aprilia was badly affected by the Italian scooter market collapsing. At this time Aprilia was expanding year on year and putting a lot of money into new factories, R&D, new models then suddenly, while Aprilia was investing heavily in the brand, the market collapsed. We entered a phase of financial difficulty and the company was pretty much put up for sale. The Piaggio Group stepped in and bought Aprilia in 2005, which has caused a renaissance of the brand thanks to fresh investment. Aprilia was never going to go bust, but it was an ambitious company that didn’t have enough money to keep investing in the brand to keep up with competitors.

What was the deal with Aprilia spare parts? it all fell into something of a shambles...

We can’t deny this, yes it was a problem, directly connected with the financial difficulties. When you are in difficulties you scale down operations to the minimum possible, unfortunately this had a knock-on effect. It’s completely solved since the Piaggio take over. In the last 12 months we have hit 97% first fill rate. The problem is it takes years to change people’s perception and it tarnished our reputation, which I think contributed to us losing market share. But we’re back on track now when it comes to spares and technical service.

Italians are notoriously frustrating to work with. have you found this to be the case?

Yes! I am Italian but have been living in Britain for the last eight years, so I can now sometimes remove myself from my Italian-ness and see things in a different way. It is frustrating, but after the frustration you accept the fact it’s exciting, because it is not clean cut. I would struggle working with a company where everything is black and white. Sometimes it’s frustrating, sometimes chaotic, but it is creative with the Italians. I like the fact that you can spend eight hours going one direction then someone can come in with an idea in the last 15 minutes and the previous eight hours are forgotten. It’s unpredictable, but that produces an exciting product, not a dry one.

Tell us about one ‘typical’ Italian moment..!

At the NEC a few years ago we had an Italian contractor come over from Italy to build the stand. Every day at half-past midday they would stop everything, set up a table, and start cooking pasta and drinking wine in the middle of the NEC. Health & Safety went mad because they were using a gas burner in the middle of the hall! We work hard but we don’t forget there are pleasures in life and we need a little moment of enjoyment.

What impact do you see the new V4 having?

The V4 is creating an aura around the brand again. Last year we said we would launch 18 new bikes in two years, now people can see we are doing it, and a stunning V4 as well. The brand credibility is growing as is the interest around Aprilia.

Will there be two versions of the V4?

Aprilia always makes two versions of a sportsbike, a base and Factory, so I can say confidently there will be two versions. When and what specifications I can’t say. But the first bike will be the WSB homolgation machine, produced in simple specification so we can make 1,500. It will be an intermediate version, I don’t think we will be down-speccing this bike, I think later on we will be producing an even higher specification one.

Why does the company persist with 125 and 250 GP racing when it seems a dead class?

Some European markets are really big on 125cc bikes. When Rossi was winning on 125s and 250s nobody was noticing the 500s. In Spain and Italy you ride a 50cc at 14 and 125 at 16, imagine the power of Valentino winning on a 125 then you produce a Rossi replica, we are talking hundreds of thousands of bikes sold over the years in a market of over half a million. That justifies the cost, in Spain and Italy GP racers are celebrities.

What is the MotoGP bike now doing?

There are a few old GP bikes at the factory. There is a general interest to go back in to MotoGP, but for the time being we need to focus on those activities that maximise brand exposure. WSB and BSB are where a competitive bike translates into sales. When Troy Corser did a double in Laguna Seca in 2002 the US branch sold out of RSV-Rs in a single day. MotoGP is less of a case, it is a showcase of technology. Sooner or later Aprilia has to compete in MotoGP, just not now. We will be in WSB next year and I hope to have the 2009 WSB bikes in BSB in 2010, I am in discussion with the company and am determined to put a UK team together. Aprilia is trying to get a couple of wildcard WSB races this year with the V4.

Will the RSV-R be killed off?

The jury is still out on the RSV-R. As it stands now the RSV-R in its current shape is the last RSV-R. We have the  new 1,200cc V-twin coming next year, but it won’t replace the V60. It is a more flexible motor suited to a sports tourer or high performance supermotard, and then we have the V4. We are evaluating if there is a place in the range for something between the V4 and the new 1,200. We can debate if we should bore it out to 1,200cc like Ducati, but the thing is, when we are able to release a V4 with a price that isn’t far off a Ducati twin, a V-twin in our range doesn’t look very attractive. Is there still a place for a V-twin in the middle, out to 1,200cc with the power of the RC8? We don’t know, we are evaluating.

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