The past two years appeared to have been heady times for Aprilia, as the motorcycle manufacturer from Noale, Italy, rolled out one exceptional bike after another. First there was the RSV 1000R sportbike, followed by the $18,000 RSV 1000R Factory, a 139 hp version of the base model; then Aprilia trumped that with the RSV 1000R Nera, a $40,000 rocket built as a limited edition of only 200 units.
However, while Aprilia’s bikes were being lauded, the company was running in the red. In April, Aprilia announced it would suspend production and declare bankruptcy if the company could not raise $9 million in one month–a startling announcement from Europe’s second-largest motorcycle manufacturer. Then in May, a consortium of European financial companies extended Aprilia’s credit lines to fend off bankruptcy, and in September, Piaggio purchased the company, outbidding rival Italian builder Ducati. Piaggio, which produces the Vespa among other scooters, injected $61 million into Aprilia and assumed $135 million of the company’s debt. “We’re extremely optimistic,” says Michael Orr, Aprilia USA’s director of marketing. “Now we’re back in growth mode, not maintenance mode.”
Aprilia is working to calm enthusiasts who were alarmed by the news of possible bankruptcy. Existing owners feared that they would suffer a decline in service and not be able to obtain replacement parts, while those who had placed deposits wondered when their bikes would be delivered–if at all. Orr reassures owners that parts are readily available and in-progress bikes still are scheduled for completion.
Orr points to two events that led to Aprilia’s financial shortcomings. In March 2000, the Italian government made helmets mandatory for riders of 50 cc scooters–Aprilia’s bread-and-butter products–and sales plummeted in response to the law. One month later, Aprilia purchased fellow Italian manufacturer Moto Guzzi, an acquisition that ultimately proved too great for Aprilia’s coffers to withstand.
Aprilia recently released an updated RSV 1000R and the Pegaso 650 Strada, a 50 hp, multipurpose machine that is the Aprilia alternative to the Ducati Multistrada. By rejecting the Ducati bid and announcing the production of the Multistrada competitor, Aprilia has indicated that it has no plans to ride off into the sunset.