Ructions on Lake Como

Things are not going smoothly at Moto Guzzi – here’s the inside story!

Despite the bad weather and rain about 1,500 Italian and European motorcyclists rallied to the support of the factory workers concerned at the possibility of closure of the historic Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario. The protest was supported by the local council who closed the street outside the factory for 3 hours and allowed camping in the grounds of the lakeside park. The parking area opposite the station was closed to cars and completely filled with motorcycles as was the closed section of roadway. Three booths were allowed to sell essential refreshments and, naturally, the event t-shirt. The complete supply of t-shirts carrying the ‘Moto di Protesta’ logo was sold out. ‘Moto di Protesta’ is a play on words that can be freely translated as ‘Motorcycle Protest’ or ‘Protest Movement’.

Brief speeches were made by union representatives and the mayor of Mandello before a parade of over 1,000 motorcycles parted for the ride to the administrative office of the Province in nearby Lecco. The parade was assisted by the support of local and state police and the Carabinieri to control traffic and escort the riders. With improving weather the parade returned from Lecco led by two State Police incongruously mounted on BMWs.

Due to the economic crisis and low production in the factory, which has maintained almost continuous production since the foundation of Moto Guzzi in 1921, is temporally closed for 3 weeks. Under the Italian system of social support, factories can program a temporary closure and workers receive a Government subsidised three quarters pay. Whilst hardly a satisfactory situation this is better than unemployment benefits, reduces the probability of permanent sackings and allows the workers to return to their jobs after the programmed closure.

Two days before the protest Roberto Colaninno, President of the Piaggio Group, in a pre-emptive response declared “We will not close the plant at Mandello of the Lario but will make important investments in industrial and technological restructuring and in the way of new models and new lines of product on which we are working.”

The representatives of the workers trampled by the crisis naturally have a different point of view. “The proprietor is in fact trying to empty the factory” according to Mario Venini (trade union spokesman), “centralising the project offices in other sites of the Piaggio group such as Noale (Venice) and Pontedera (Pisa) and leaving to Mandello only the production line assembly of the motors and the final assembly of motorcycles. In this way marque of the Eagle (sic – Moto Guzzi) seriously risks losing own identity, without considering that approximately a third of the 150 dependants risk loosing their jobs.”

The existing staff levels are already a far cry from the early 1950’s peak of over 1500 workers. It is a simple fact that no production machinery remains at the factory. Much of what remained when Piaggio took control was already obsolete and in bad condition. A good part of the machinery was simply scrapped and the rest sold. The facilities at the factory are now reduced to the assembly lines previously mentioned and most of the factory buildings are now empty shells. One can only hope that the market for Moto Guzzi improves allowing the projected development to take place. There is a possibility that other brand models may be assembled at the factory which needs a minimum production of over 10,000 units to be considered viable. Some new Guzzi models, or at least variations on existing models, are likely to be displayed at EICMA at Milan in November. The new 8 valve motor (4 valve heads) after some minor teething problems has now proven to be a robust and reliable engine and can be expected to spearhead the product range for the next year or two.

Unfortunately, the cause of Moto Guzzi has not been helped in the past by a series of bad management decisions and simple mismanagement. Amongst these can be cited the failure to produce a road-going version of the MGS, particularly in light of the wins at Daytona, and the decision to develop an automatic gearbox for the Aprilia Mana instead of the Moto Guzzi California. The American Market, in particular, has be requesting an automatic version of California ever since the demise of the much appreciated Moto Guzzi V1000 Convert. Further strain has been placed on the marque by the late release of accessories. The Bellagio, for example, was on the market for over a year before any accessories were available. Marketing and planning executives have demonstrated a complete lack of understanding of the Moto Guzzi client and failed to capitalize on the loyal following of Guzzisti around the world.

After the protest ride the motorcyclists assembled in the market square to enjoy an afternoon and evening that amounted to a small rally with several hundred motorcyclists remaining for the night. The motorcyclists and many locals enjoyed good food prepared by a local nonprofit organization. The evening entertainment commenced with Simone and Tamara Marchetti (http://www.marchetti.ws) projecting film of their South American adventure on a Moto Guzzi California. Simone and Tamara inspired the crowd with their example of long-range touring in remote and difficult locations. The evening’s entertainment was completed by the energetic ‘Bepi and the Prismas’ (Moto Guzzi Rock and Roll) and the ‘Train Time Blues Band’. Despite the serious nature of the event a good time was had by all. In the end that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it.

Postscript

In a meeting with executives of the Piaggio Group on the 22 September, the unions representing the employees were advised that 50 places would be cut. This removes nearly all of the office staff from Mandello and reduces the factory and logistics staff by a small number. These cuts allow a break-even production of 7,000 units. As current sales worldwide are in the region of 7,000 units per annum the target would seem to be realistic. As the economy improves over the next few years Guzzi should be in a good position to expand sales beyond the magic 10,000 level. It should then be able to capitalize on the release of new models timed to be available as the motorcycle market improves.

In other sad news from Italy; Moto Morini filed for voluntary liquidation on the 23 September and is currently seeking a financial partner to help keep the motorcycles in production. This does not mean that the company is bankrupt but it does mean that they have severe cash flow problems and are currently unable to meet outstanding debts to suppliers. The move is in fact calculated to avoid bankruptcy and allow time to find a solution to satisfy the creditors. The company employs 65 people who are still producing the motorcycles, predominantly the Granpasso, and the Corsaro.

One can only hope that a solution is found which allows the company to stay in production and protect the positions of employees, the dealer network, and naturally owners of motorcycles from this exciting and innovative small company.

My sincere thanks to Peter Bradley, who sent me the above report. He also sent the pictures.

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