LML restarts (again) from Italy

The Indian brand known for keeping the Vespa PX alive after Piaggio’s retirement is back in the limelight, with an electric scooter designed by a pool of Italian companies

What happened to LML, the Indian company that some fifteen years ago came to have good success here too chis Vespas renamed Star?

The short answer is that it closed due to financial distress in 2017. But the story of LML is far from over, and is now preparing to open a new chapter that starts once again from Italy… but in a completely different way.

The epic of the Indian Vespa

LML, born in 1972 as a manufacturer of machinery for the textile industry, began his adventure with the scooter in 1983, when Piaggio chooses it to set up a joint venture to bring it back to the Indian market after the previous deal with Bajaj had ended since 1971.

LML starts producing the most requested vehicles on the Indian market: an Ape-type three-wheeler with a 100 2-stroke engine and scooter, especially Vespa PX produced with molds supplied by Piaggio, but also clones of the T5 and the Cosa. The joint venture is quite successful, and at the end of the 90s LML is the second Indian scooter manufacturer behind Bajaj, with over 300,000 vehicles marketed each year. The collaboration with Piaggio ended in 1999, LML takes over the molds and production rights but obviously not trade names, like that renames his scooter Star and continues to produce it, alongside other light bikes and scooters also built under licence.

From success to failure

In richer versions, the Star is also exported abroad: United States, New Zealand and also in Italy, where the Star Deluxe arrives in 2001 in the two displacements 125 and 150, always 2-stroke. It has limited success, but things change when in 2008 Piaggio decides to stop production of the Vespa PX with the entry into force of the Euro 3 legislation. The Star Deluxe is instead homologated Euro3 and satisfies the question of the wide range of “Vespone” nostalgics.

Playing on the nostalgia effect, amplified by intelligent color choices, richer equipment and good technical features (the reed valve instead of the rotary valve, an electronic carburettor, a more efficient catalytic converter) which culminate in the arrival of a 4T version at the end of 2009, with mixed chassis frame-bearing body in rear tubes, more central engine and secured with silent blocks.

From 2013 comes a 4-stroke version with variator which combines the aesthetics of the Vespa PX with contemporary mechanics, but despite the good prospects in Italy the company struggles at home, where it realizes by far the largest part of its turnover, and as mentioned closed its doors due to financial instability in 2017.

The return

Let’s get to 2023, 40 years after the joint venture with Piaggio. The LML brand is still known and respected, especially in India, ed SG Corporate Mobility, part of a large group already active in telecommunications, decides to take over and relaunch it. The trial starts in 2019, once again with a strong involvement of Italy to which the new ownership turns to design from scratch a Star in step with the times, therefore inevitably electric.

Among our many design supplier companies, to tick it is ANYMA design, recent but solid reality guided by the complementary visions of car designer Carlo Bonzanigo (formerly responsible for Pininfarina design and Citroën Advanced Design), del bike designer Lorenzo Naddei (already active in the Piaggio and Ducati style centers and later the founder of Q-ID Industrial Design) and of industrial designer Francesca Cester (formerly at the helm of the De Longhi style center).

From India to Italy – and back

ANYMA design convinces Indians with a rather rare combination of flexibility, responsiveness and ability to develop the project at 360°: not only from the design side but also from the engineering side being able to count on the support of two other Italian companies: SPM Engineering, motorcycle engineering company with 45 years of experience and active collaborations with the most important Italian and international brands and GP Engineering, Giuseppe Ghezzi’s company well known as the founder and technical soul of the Ghezzi&Brian brand. To better interpret the needs of a vehicle destined for a complex market such as the Indian one, An Indian company, Desmania Design, is also part of the team.

Even with a “turnkey” project – style, chassis, driving dynamics – the missing piece for the relaunch of LML is industrial capacity: the new ownership resolves it by acquiring, in September 2022, the state-of-the-art Harley-Davidson factory in Gurgaon, dropped out when Milwaukee preferred develop a joint venture with Hero instead of working alone.

New identity

For LML, after the great success achieved in the past decades taking up projects from others (in addition to Piaggio also Benelli and Daelim), in short, it announces itself an epochal step: do everything at home. This involves a reflection on the identity of the brand and on the setting chosen for the new Star, which differs from that of the Indian brands also premium: less heritage and more modern style and many original solutions – sometimes borrowed from the car world – such as the front display to communicate the vehicle with the outside world, the front and rear cameras, the haptic navigation system (to avoid distracting the driver, it makes the right or left grip vibrate when turning) or the saddle that can be adjusted with a button, like the seats in a car.

Definitely a lot of content for a vehicle that will inevitably also have an aggressive price, at least if brought back to our market. The substance remains that of an electric scooter with good dynamic characteristics (low center of gravity, belt-driven central and final motor), with a contemporary style and with its own identity, which certainly no longer refers to Piaggio’s formal language, but not even to that of the many Chinese competitors.

Forty years later

Already presented in India, the Star electric will be launched at Auto Expo 2023 in New Delhi which will start on January 13th. The scooter should then arrive on the Indian market in the second half of 2023, and it is naturally not excluded that can arrive in Europe in a relatively short time. Forty years after the first Vespa produced by LML, the marriage between India and Italy is enriched of a new, surprising chapter.

Interview: Lorenzo Naddei, Anyma Design

Co-founder of Anyma Design, Lorenzo Naddei it is the “motorcycling” soul of the group having worked for Piaggio and Ducati before founding Q-id design, a company that until 2020 collaborated among other things with the largest companies in the Motor Valley Italian, in the field of both motorcycles and cars.

Lorenzo, how did the relationship with LML come about?

“The relationship with LML goes back a long way, ever since I worked at Piaggio and then with Q-id. The collaboration was solid right from the start: LML has always had Italian blood but also an international vision, and we are very happy to have been called to bring the brand back to where it deserves. To do this, we have focused on a new concept of collaboration, making available a group of highly experienced companies that have chosen to work together to best promote Italian skills and methodologies, but with uncommon flexibility and freshness of the process and the support from an Indian design company to have the best understanding of the local market”.

The easiest thing to think of is that, to take advantage of the Star 4T’s image drive, the new Star would have been a blaze of Vespa references from recent generations, from the ET4 to the electric one. Instead it completely departs from it.

“The decision is the result of a careful analysis of the market and the brand. The new ownership knows that it has a highly valuable brand in its hands: with Royal Enfield, LML is still today the only Indian builder to have international fame. Furthermore, it has always been innovative if we relate it to the Indian context: in the 80s Piaggio technology was advanced for them, and in more recent times they have developed it like no other with the electronic carburettor, the 4-stroke engine, the mixed body-tube frame and so saying. This is why we decided to move away from the design currently prevalent in India and to aim for a contemporary style”.

But is there already an Indian design?

“The design culture in India is relatively recent, the interior style is developing but already with good results, as seen in the automotive field. At the moment they have many external influences, linked to the historical presence of foreign companies: however they already have their own taste, for example the perceived quality is very important and translates, for example, in the abundance of chrome plating, in the quality of the paintwork. You may not like Indian products but they are certainly not aseptic products. Desmania has given a great contribution to allow us to find the most attractive proportions for the local market, which are different from ours, even if the final result, as we wanted, has nothing to do with European or Indian production”.

The Italian style is highly appreciated in the East: is it the same in India?

“Yup. India is a country with a millenary culture, a very strong artistic sensibility and, just like Italy, a very thick artisan tradition. Indian design has its roots in this richness and sensitivity, and for this reason it loves to integrate with similar cultures, such as ours. Then of course, in the case of two wheels they have a vision less linked to fashion, passion, status; for them the motorbike is an almost primary need, and they want to have something as close as possible to their person, with whom they spend a lot of time. It becomes something familiar, and we’ve tried to respect that.”

You also work with Chinese companies. What difference did you find between India and China?

“Both countries use 2-wheeled vehicles in a decidedly more massive way than the Western world, with gigantic sales even if compared with those of the whole of Europe. There are great similarities and both countries are investing heavily in the electric future, including the charging network. The monolithic structure of China makes the context in which it operates simpler and decisions faster than in India, which is a federal and democratic state. However, I believe that the real difference is in the presence or absence of a strong tradition on two wheels: in China this tradition does not exist, and this means that companies are very much oriented towards innovation because they have nothing to keep; India, on the other hand, has a historical-industrial history similar to ours, which automatically makes it a little more conservative, prudent in overturning it, even if it too is accelerating a lot in the face of the enormous environmental problems it faces”.

And in the relationship with them?

“In the development of a project, the relationship with India is more symbiotic: it is a culture more similar to ours, in the end it is Indo-European; Chinese companies are more detached, tied to the business; but this sometimes makes them even more efficient. The Chinese aim to be as independent as possible as soon as possible, India has less qualms about asking for long-term support, perhaps also for their Anglo-Saxon heritage. Certainly both countries seem to have an edge today compared to the prudence of Western companies, as has also been clearly seen in the latest editions of Eicma”.

LML restarts (again) from Italy – Dueruote