Dealerships are an important part of the motorcycle manufacturer ecosystem. They are, after all, where a lot of people come to experience new models. If they go on to buy them there, chances are also good that they’ll also purchase parts and/or seek service from those dealers. Over time, those dealers build relationships with customers in their local communities. Even as more OEMs make it easier to facilitate new bike purchases online, these are some reasons why local dealerships remain important.
With that in mind, why does it appear that Piaggio Group Americas seems unconcerned with retaining and growing some dealer relationships across the U.S.? I know that anecdotes don’t equal hard data, but when you hear enough of the same kind of story from enough different sources, you start to wonder what’s going on.
Here’s what we’ve observed so far. For those unaware, Aprilia—which is a Piaggio Group brand—used to have a less than stellar reputation for parts availability in the U.S. Now, even during the bad times, Austin, Texas-based Aprilia dealer AF1 worked extra hard to keep customers around the country happy. They did their best to get parts and consumables for Aprilias into the hands of eager riders. As things improved, more Aprilia dealers started popping up around the country, and parts distribution also improved.
Over a period of several years, employees of various Aprilia (and former Aprilia) dealerships would occasionally share stories that increasingly started to sound familiar. In those stories, they alleged that Piaggio Group Americas made unrealistic demands on those dealers in terms of what stock they could carry.
One dealer mentioned not being able to carry Aprilia without also carrying Piaggio’s other brands, including Vespa and Piaggio. That could be fine if your shop is already a scooter destination in your area, but it doesn’t work so well if your shop only specializes in sportbikes. I personally love both, for different reasons. A lot of riders don’t, however, particularly in America. While there are scooterists here, both motorcycles and scooters (and their enthusiasts) are different markets in the U.S. than they are in most of the rest of the world.
A recent post from New Haven Powersports in an Aprilia Forum thread sheds a bit of light on another, seemingly ill-advised aspect that I’ve heard rumblings of in recent years. On March 10, 2021, a representative of New Hampshire Powersports wrote in a forum post,
“Our decision to not carry Aprilia had nothing to do with focusing on other brands. Most multi line dealers like ourselves deal with various brands and management of those brands. Piaggio has decided that a top selling dealer in Connecticut was not willing to stock an unreasonable amount of product. We have been an Aprilia dealer since 1999 (dealer number 004) and have sold hundreds of various models since the beginning,” the post began.
“ALL dealers have to stock the full line of the brand, but Piaggio has forced dealers to stock a large amount of parts and accessories far above normal stocking levels, along with auto ship when you sell a bike. So, for a dealer that may be in an area that is seasonal like us, our goal is to sell down towards the end of the riding season to cut down on carrying costs,” it continued.
“Piaggio has no interest in how the US dealers operate, and just cares about wholesale numbers of units shipped to the dealers. I expect you will see more dealers drop the line if things don't change. They found it better to not have a dealer in CT than work with a loyal dealer of 22 years,” the post concluded.
We reached out to Piaggio for comment, but they were unavailable as of publishing time. We will update this piece if we receive a response.
According to Aprilia’s dealer locator, as of March 15, 2021, there are 63 sales and service locations located throughout the U.S. However, this information clearly isn’t up to date, as New Haven Powersports is still listed. Since the above interaction only occurred a few days ago, it’s reasonable to assume that the website simply hasn’t been updated yet.
There’s a certain joy in riding something you don’t see every day. That’s only one of the reasons that Aprilia enthusiasts enjoy the brand, but it’s definitely a slice of the bigger picture. So, it’s hard to fathom what good Piaggio thinks it’s doing by making loyal dealers—and their customers—feel like they don’t matter.
To be clear, I’ve never worked for an Aprilia dealer, and I've also never directly been privy to conversations between Piaggio Group Americas and any specific dealer. However, I’ve heard enough anecdotes that paint a picture of the same kind of treatment from multiple sources to wonder what Piaggio’s strategy is.
If you’re a massive OEM with a worldwide presence, why wouldn’t you a) take the time to understand the needs and operating practices of individual markets, and b) want to work with dealers who’ve been loyal to your brand for years, or in some cases, decades? Make it make sense, Piaggio.