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Driving business with a difference: Apelino

ABOUT 60 years ago, the promotional slogan for a cute Italian three-wheel service vehicle translated as ‘Ape, the vehicle that helps you to make money’.

The Australian company bringing these iconic vehicles into the country for the first time and modifying them for local conditions, Apelino Pty Ltd, believes that motto will soon hold true for a great many Australian businesses. 

The manufacturer of the Ape – as it is popularly known in Europe, pronounced ah-peh and meaning ‘bee’ in Italian – Piaggio, is probably best known for its Vespa scooters. Vespa is Italian for ‘wasp’. Like the Vespa, the Ape is said to be named after the buzzing sound of its engine.

The Piaggio Ape is being adapted for some highly innovative Australian service companies by Apelino Pty Ltd, with local manufacturing and design for the vehicle’s plethora of rear service hatches and canopies, according to executive director Wolfgang Roffmann.

He said for the last 60 years, the Ape has probably been the world’s most versatile commercial vehicle.

“Its three wheels have plied the world’s roads since the end of the Second World War, carrying all sorts of cargo,” Mr Roffmann said.

“One thing is for sure, wherever the Ape is spotted it will attract attention.

“The Ape represents one of the most significant chapters in the history of urban mobility and commercial transport. A one of a kind vehicle and unmistakable silhouette it has become a transport icon. The Ape is a part of Italian history.”

Originally used for transporting goods to local businesses through the narrow streets of Italian cities, using the Piaggio Ape as a mobile retail site followed shortly after. 

Mr Roffmann said in recent decades, using the Ape as a retail unit has had a renaissance in other countries in Europe, particularly Germany and the UK.

“The Ape 50 attracts attention wherever it is spotted,” he said.

Powered by a 50cc two-stroke engine with a four-speed gear box, in its latest version, it has a top speed of about 40kmh

“The performance is suited to the job, with good torque for hills, but a low top speed,” Mr Roffmann said.

“The rear loading area is a large flat 120x120cm, which gives space for a number of possible setups, such as coffee machines, juice bar, hot dog stand or even a pizza oven.”

It has taken Apelino almost two years from the time a decision was made to bring them to Australia, to make it a reality.

Mr Roffmann conceived the plan to bring the Piaggio Ape to Australia, after being told that was near impossible to do, because of the stringent Australian Design Rules and associated compliance.

Just a few months ago, Apelino received approval by the Federal Department of Infrastructure for compliance with Australian Design Rules and the right to add identification plates, permitting the Apes to be registered for road use across Australia.

“The compliance approval has been a very long and often frustrating exercise and there was a lot to be learned,” Mr Roffmann said.

Piaggio Commercial Vehicles in Pontedera worked together with Apelino to make this happen. The conversion to retail units and all associated compliance modifications are done in Australia.

Apelino, based in Brisbane, has ordered its first shipment from Italy, with eight units expected to arrive at the end of September.

Four of the eight units were almost immediately committed, with one each going to Victoria, New South Wales, Western Australia and Queensland, but by the time the vehicles landed last month they had all been sold. The next shipment is expected to arrive in mid November 2014.

Public markets, food service and special events are expected to be Apelino’s main markets.

www.apelino.com.au

Video of the Ape driven by an Apelino Pty Ltd staffer can be viewed at:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=krmxabmgX-Y#t=11

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