I had once written this article about China on this site and I still receive feedback about it. I thought I had it behind me. I thought I was done with it. But never have I been so wrong.
A lot has changed since the time I wrote the article. I managed to make one of my childhood dreams come true. Last month, I bought a Vespa. Yes, when other kids were dreaming about that Ferrari or that Ducati, all I wanted was a Vespa. I dunno if it was my repeated watching of Roman Holiday or the numerous minimal Italian films I watched as a teenager. I always dreamt about owning something that looked like this :
and then I finally ended up buying this:
And the very morning I rode my Vespa VX (actually in the international market it’s still the LX 125) to my workplace, I decided to catch up on the history of this “named after an insect” scooter. And while doing so I chanced upon an article on China and one thing led to another and I decided to Google “Chinese Vespa” and that’s how I opened Pandora’s box one more time.
This is the cheekily named Roman-50/Roman-150 manufactured by Tatotao motors in China. It’s a cheap plastic rip-off of the Vespa LX series and can be easily purchased on Alibaba.com or many others on the net. I am not going into the reasons for copying stuff blatantly, but it doesn’t take a genius to figure out the biggest problem- the cost of the Vespa. In a country like China or even India, scooters are looked upon as a cheap mode of transport as opposed to a lifestyle brand. And ironicaly, the reason Vespas or the other Italian post world war era scooters became so popular was because they were cheap.
Today the Vespa is the most expensive scooter on the Indian market and is going to reaffirm that if they decide upon bringing in the more expensive models. Vespa’s today have become hipsterish toys and I plead guilty to be a part of this fad. And therefore the cheaper and supposedly fuel efficient “Chinese Vespa” makes more sense in mass market China, and the fact that Piaggio in China doesn’t sell the Vespa makes it all the more obvious.
What do they sell instead? This abomination:
In Taiwan, there’s a Vespa (edging on Lambretta) knock off called Bellavita made by TGB and like the Vespa it comes in different models.
By the way TGB stands for Taiwanese Golden Bee and we aren’t kidding.
Though the Taotao Roman and the TGB Bellavita are definitely Vespa knock-offs, there’s some variation in design. But there’s a Vietnamese scooter called the Blue Diamond which is actually a plastic scale replica of the Vespa LX version, the only thing missing is a Piaggio badge (there’s space for it though) and it comes with a Honda engine. Both Piaggio and Honda in Vietnam have condemned this Italian designed Japanese engined plastic mashup.
The only problem with these inspired/knock off scooters are the same problems with fake iPhones. They suck in terms of quality and no a brake failure on an iPhone wouldn’t hurt as much as on a fake Vespa.
The Vespa brand is probably one of the most iconic brands in the world and over the years there have been numerous licensed and unlicensed copies.
There were the licensed/collab ones like the original Bajaj Chetak, which used the classic Vespa frame for more than 40 years. Yes before they made licensed Kawasakis, they made licensed Vespas.
or the LML VESPA
or the short lived Soviet Vyatka, which was a reverse engineered Vespa and was stopped in production because Piaggio said so.
Look at them, these scooters look so beautiful. Even the top of the line Vespa (which I can’t afford and isn’t available in India) isn’t like the classics. And that’s the exact emotion, ex-Vespa partners and currently financially troubled LML decided to exploit.
This is the LML Star and it is meant for export markets as a classic Vespa copy. Heck, they even shipped it back to the place the original Vespa came from;Italy. And in America it’s called the Stella.
And following up on that very emotion are our neighbours. Meet the Nico Italia from China.
Thankfully the Italia at least looks good unlike it’s stablemate the Neco Eco which is again a Chinese Vespa LX rip-off and a bad one at that.
Oh and on a side note, remember the all so famous autorickshaw or tuk tuk? That too is related to the Vespa. Piaggio based the original Ape on a Vespa, in fact it was marketed as a Tri-Vespa, and just how Bajaj licensed the Vespa to be the Chetak, it also licensed the original 1948 Piaggio Ape C which it would manufacture long after the end of the license period…
Although Piaggio competes in the same market and the new Ape looks like this. ( Sadly it looks nothing like the Vespa)
The Vespa is more than a scooter brand. Along with Lambretta, it is surely an evergreen icon which has transcended numerous decades of innovation. And being as iconic as it is , it is bound to be replicated and copied in the future like it has been in the past.
Featured image courtesy : https://www.flickr.com/photos/crisp2u/