A blast through Milan, electrified
While the production edition of Vespa Elettrica was attracting a huge crowd in the Piaggio stand at EICMA 2018, I had the opportunity to ride the neat-looking whispering scooter around downtown Milan. Downtown Milan is not a friendly habitat for classic scooters with small-diameter wheels. The ancient streets are paved either with cobblestones or large granite stones, and in both cases the surface is extremely uneven and bumpy. Add tramway tracks intersecting in all directions adding to that uneven surface and you have a very effective proving ground.
Testing in Milan
Milan’s cobblestone and granite-paved streets are a worthy testing grounds for an urban commuting scooter.Courtesy of Vespa
Vespa Elettrica is not the only electric-powered scooter available today, and EICMA 2018 was invaded by electric crawlers from China. But this is a Vespa, and that is a very solid platform to start from. In this case, Vespa Elettrica shares the same basic steel unibody structure of the Vespa Primavera. The design is even neater due to the cleanliness of the compact electric motor installation and the absence of the exhaust system. In addition, Piaggio Styling Department selected a very nice shade of silver gray and added contrasting color striping to the edge of the front shield and around the wheels. Mine had the same electric blue striping featured by last year’s prototype, and I must say that still is the most appropriate-looking one.
The Vespa Elettrica shares the same unibody chassis as the Primavera scooter.Courtesy of Vespa
The Elettrica is powered by a 4-kilowatt motor, the maximum power allowed for mopeds. Thus it enjoy ultra-low insurance rates and no yearly road taxation. The complete electric power unit was developed by Piaggio, including an air-cooled 4.2-kWh lithium-ion battery. The Piaggio Electric Vehicle Department cooperated with LG Chem that supplies the individual cells to give life to a very solid and reliable 48-volt battery. That is not a minor achievement since lithium-ion batteries are by far the most capable batteries, but also the most critical when not duly thermally stabilized or when physically abused—as was the case with all of the bumps I experienced during my ride over Milan’s cobblestone streets and tram tracks.
Reliability has been a priority with Vespa from the beginning—in 1946. Like all electric motors, the Piaggio-Vespa unit delivers a much higher peak torque than peak power would lead to believe, and in this case the 3.5-kilowatt (4 kilowatts peak) motor delivers a healthy 148 pound-feet peak torque at 0 rpm, and that translates into brisk acceleration qualities with no need of a gearbox, just a 15:1 primary transmission.
Vespa Elettrica’s 4-kilowatt motor
The Vespa Elettrica’s 4-kilowatt motor delivers 148 pound-feet of torque.Courtesy of Vespa
Riding the Elettrica is even easier and more instinctive that riding any other Vespa. All the rider needs to do is select the power mode (Full or Eco) and the intensity of the energy recovery and consequent braking effect, when decelerating (Stage 1 or 2). At the touch of the power mode switch even reverse can be selected (it is simple with electric motors), for even easier handling in parking.
Vespa’s Elettrica talks to the rider through the TFT display at the center of the handlebar, and a very powerful electronics suite provides ample connectivity through one’s smartphone via Bluetooth.
A TFT dash connects the rider’s smartphone via Bluetooth.Courtesy of Vespa
The Elettrica is and feels very light from the moment I took off its stand. The response to even a minor twist of the throttle grip is prompt, solid, but absolutely easy to control. No sudden surge, yet the acceleration at the lights is more than adequate to stay clear of the traffic, very reassuring. The Elettrica quickly reaches the 32-mph mark (50 kph) and stabilizes; the traffic pack might even pass you on a boulevard, but at that stage let it happen, no safety problem. The top speed mopeds are allowed to reach is 32 mph, and the Vespa Elettrica sticks to the rules. In real life, it turns out to be extremely functional and practical, so very easy and safe, and even fun, if you want.
Power delivery from the Elettrica is prompt but easy to control.Courtesy of Vespa
In the real world, the battery pack recharge is the obvious drawback. The Elettrica comes with the complete recharging system and it takes about four hours from a European household 220-volt socket to recharge from zero. Much slower times can be expected from an American 110-volt plug. Also, it takes a garage or at least a duly protected area to prevent abuses or vandal acts. A battery charge is adequate for a 60-plus-mile range in eco mode, which means half-peak power and a 20-mph top speed, but same peak torque and acceleration, which is what really counts in town. The extensive range in these conditions sure makes things easier in real life; average daily riding in town is limited to 6 miles in Europe and is said to be comparable in densely populated cities in the US, even in the case of big towns. All it takes is one recharging session a week.
On the other hand, the Vespa Elettrica is just so easy, safe, and comfortable that it will conquer the hearts of the feminine public like never before with a two-wheeled vehicle. And the rider does not have to put up with fumes and the smell of gasoline. Price in Italy is not so cheap at $7,499, but the execution and quality are of a high standard. So the value is there.