BENELLI: TOGETHER WITH CHINA - FOR PROSPERITY?
The Italian company Benelli does not need recommendations at all. However, she never entered the major league of motorcycle manufacturers. Now she is one step away from joining her.
The prerequisites for the rise in authority arose three years ago, in October 2005, when the Chinese conglomerate Qianjiang, a giant that produces 1.4 million motorcycles and scooters a year, absorbed this company. And now, not without the help of the new owner at the factory in the Italian city of Pesaro - this is the "capital" Benelli - are preparing for the production of motorcycles in the most popular class: sports "six hundred." In case of successful implementation of the project, the brand will be able to claim a place in the major league. Pay attention to this subtlety: other European manufacturers (Triumph, promising MV Agusta and BMW) humbly bow their heads to the Japanese "fours" - do not encroach on competing with them and choose a 3-cylinder scheme for their 600 cc motorcycles. Benelli also dared to become a direct competitor to the Japanese in the class of cars with an in-line 4-cylinder engine. At the same time, the Italian prototype, which is due to debut in Milan in November 2010, is completely different from the Japanese twin sports bikes!
You won’t believe it, but the general and technical director of the company, Pierre-Luigi Marconi, received carte blanche from the Chinese to create the world's first 600-cc sports with a revolutionary control scheme - with a swivel hub. Oh yes, it immediately arouses associations with another Marconi project - Bimota Tesi. But Tesi is a very expensive and exotic product: in 1991–93 they released only 417 devices with Ducati V2 engines. Now everything is different: the 600 cc Benelli should become a mass-produced machine, comparable in price to both the Japanese Quartet and European 3-cylinder models - Triumph 675 and the future MV Agusta and BMW.
“We decided to release a model in the sports segment, because we simply must be present in it, ” Marconi determined his plans for the future. - At first, they developed a 3-cylinder 675 cc engine. But our Chinese owners urged to attack the Japanese in a strategically important area. There is a reason: in the end, it was the formula “4 cylinders, 600“ cubes ”that proved to be optimal. Our goal is to launch a mainstream rather than a niche product.Sketch of the future 600 cc machine Sketch of the future 600 cc machine
Wow mainstream - with such an avant-garde chassis! To which Marconi replied: “At the level of modern mass production, almost everyone squeezed out of a 4-cylinder 600-cubic format! But not to the last drop. We used an ultra-short-stroke design, sophisticated electronics, a variable-length inlet tract, and ultralight internal components. But this is only enough to keep up with competitors. The only way to get ahead is to create the perfect chassis. And the Tesi concept is the key to success. ”
Even so? “Yes, ” Marconi confirmed, “our engine is the usual Quartet, developing 16, 000 rpm, but the engine is specifically designed for the Tesi concept. The cylinders are tilted forward by 10 degrees, the crankcase is able to absorb loads instead of the frame. Both the front and rear suspension arms with cantilever wheels are mounted directly to the crankcase. In the RR version, we apply active control of the suspension parameters: motorcycle speed, throttle position, selected gear and brake pressure will be consistent with the settings of the shock absorbers. ”
It sounds promising. After all, what still remained the Tesi Achilles heel? Designers were forced to adapt the chassis to existing engines: first the Honda 750 V4, then the Yamaha OW01 and Ducati V2. And for the first time, Benelli is designing an engine based on the concept of the chassis - and this is a big step forward. Steering elements, a saddle and a gas tank will support carbon fiber subframes, and mass savings are huge compared to the traditional frame.Carlos Sonson - chief designer of new projects Benelli Carlos Sonson - chief designer of new projects Benelli
But what about tires? I had to make sure from my own experience (in the early 90s I chased Bimota Tesi for three years) that such a chassis requires a very specific approach to choosing tires - and if you are in the Supersport class, you just have to use the tires that are in free sale.
“Thank you, this is an important point, ” agreed Marconi. - Based on the considerations that it is necessary to use serial tires, we entered the Supersport class, not the Superbike. A 1000-cc motorcycle makes the tires run to the limit of their capabilities, so they will not be able to cope with late braking, which you can enter into turns on the Tesi chassis. The 600 cc Supersport has less weight, and speeds are not outrageous. So the wheels of the new Benelli will be all right. ”
Are Italians going to expand their lineup? And use the 600 cc engine in other models - for example, in a naked bike? “Do not get so far ahead - as long as you have enough worries with a sport bike, ” says Marconi. - In the medium-volume Naked class, we have 2Due - a direct competitor to Fazer and Shiver. Honestly, we are not particularly in a hurry to fight in this field of competitive battles - this class does not bring those profits that do not allow you to sleep peacefully. But it is important for the future, as it attracts newcomers and ties them to the brand. Now, if we want to offer something unusual in the nuked-sport class, then perhaps this is something we will build on the Tesi chassis. ”
Opening it a bit is only for us! - the curtain on the future Benelli, Marconi admitted why the development of future models took so much time: “The first year and a half after the“ transition to the protectorate ”Qianjiang spent on“ rubbing ”each other. Benelli is a very Italian company, in terms of both design and production. We had to change our working methods in many ways - not only to the engineers, but also to all the employees of the plant. Another problem is the vast distances dividing China and Europe. Remoteness causes delays in the coordination of both industrial strategy and technical issues. Now we’ve got used to it and are ready to surprise the world with new products. ”
This fall, the serial production of the 2-cylinder 2Due is finally unfolding, its engine (88x62 mm, 756 cm, 90 hp) - as it were, two cylinders “cut off” from the 1130 cc “three”. “We will start with a naked bike, ” comments Marconi, “later he will be accompanied by a city enduro, a full-fledged dual-purpose motorcycle - something between the KTM 690 Enduro and the BMW F800GS, and we also intend to give out a streetfighter after them. The delay in the start of mass production is due to the fact that it took time to integrate with the factories of the Chinese concern. Let's say many of the details will start coming to us from China. But the final assembly is here in Italy. By the end of this year, Benelli 2Due, I promise, will appear in showrooms, its price is about 8, 000 euros.Assembly: everything is under control. Chinese. Assembly: everything is under control. Chinese.
Another line of the new Benelli motorcycles is the Mono family, these are single-cylinder off-road motorcycles. The prototype made its debut in Germany on Intermot in 2006, and then serial versions followed: 450 cc “cross” VX, 506 cc enduro and 570 cc supermotard. They have a very compact liquid-cooled engine: two upper camshafts, four valves made of titanium, made as a single whole crankcase and a cassette-type gearbox. Soon we are transforming the supermotard into a dual-use motorcycle like the Yamaha XT500, ”Marconi said, “ its off-road capabilities will be better than the KTM Duke, but not as extreme as the BMW 450. ”
Created in collaboration with renowned off-road vehicle designers, the Alvaro and Guido Vertemati brothers, this engine is installed in an avant-garde chassis. Aluminum diagonal frame elements are connected to the front pipes through a set of carbon fiber parts of different stiffness, so that the owner will be able to adjust the characteristics of the frame, adapting them to different tracks - sand, rolled soil, dirt, etc. And in 2009, Marconi promises, the 250-cc version, embodied in cross-country and enduro, which, according to the company’s technical director, will set new, higher standards for weight and compactness in this class, will debut also. And thus, the new Benelli will give battle to European competitors - KTM, Husqvarna and Aprilia, even those products that are now in the project.
But the plans to make a custom (with a boat V6 with a working volume of 2260 cmz) and compete with the direct competitor Triumph Rocket III have been shelved. “We concluded that it is too early for us to invade the custom market, ” Marconi explained. - And touring motorcycles, I think, are not for us. The closest to the category of tourist motorcycles, which we will undertake to produce in the near future - Tre-K. "
But why is Marconi silent about the idea of creating a superbike with a V5 engine? I did not hesitate to ask about it. “We had to revise this project, ” admitted Pierre Luigi. - The current World Superbike rules do not favor engines with a number of cylinders other than two or four. So, starting to design the V5, we converted it to V4. This is not so difficult - they cut off one cylinder and increased the working volume of the remaining ones. Our device is as close as possible to MotoGP motorcycles, although we use conventional valve springs, not pneumatic ones. We don’t really care about the torque, because it will be a bike for racing or track weekends, and not a “street” sport bike. Although we homologate it for driving on ordinary roads. ”
If you summarize the information and analyze, it turns out that three years after the Chinese takeover, Benelli is firmly on its feet. How will the company develop? “Now we produce only 3, 000 motorcycles a year, ” explains Marconi, “next year we will make 7, 000 cars. The maximum productivity of the plant is 8, 000 units per year, and only motorcycles: we have already transferred the manufacture of scooters to China. They found a site for new buildings - here, not far from Pesaro, and began design work. ”
Closing remarks - Lin Hua Zhong, president of Qianjiang:
“Benelli is like a growing tree with many branches, but due to sparse watering, some began to dry out. So we poured: we invest so much to bring Benelli to the number of leading world brands. In the near future we will try to fill all the market niches that are popular in Europe and the USA. New models will continue to feature recognizable Italian design, sold at attractive prices. Mr. Marconi and his team did a great job to succeed. I am sure that Benelli has enormous potential. ”
BENELLI HISTORY: SECOND VIOLINOn the highway Jarno Saarinen on the 4-cylinder Venelli On the highway Jarno Saarinen on the 4-cylinder Venelli
Benelli's place in Italian motorcycle culture is surprisingly similar to what the Maserati has in the world of four wheels. Both companies were founded by families with a large number of male offspring, both won the Grand Prix and world championships, but at the same time both played the second violin: in the eyes of the public they were pushed into the background by such aristocrats as MV Agusta and Ferrari. And the irony of fate is that both brands were in the hands of the Italian-Argentine businessman Alessandro De Tomaso. His attempts to milk the firms to dryness only led to their decline. But now, after thirty years of vegetation, both companies are reborn as part of huge concerns. Maserati, along with Ferrari and Alfa Romeo entered the empire of Fiat, Benelli was in the arms of the Chinese conglomerate Qianjiang.
The company made a significant contribution to the development of the motorcycle design: this is the first serial device with an overhead camshaft drive; The first Italian road bike with pendulum rear suspension; first 4-cylinder 250 cc racing bike; The first 6-cylinder road bike; The first 4-cylinder 250cc road bike. The beginning of Benelli was more than modest. Teresa Benelli founded it in 1911 in Pesaro just to give a permanent job to her six boys - at that time they were from 9 to 22 years old. At first, in a small workshop engaged in the repair of bicycles and cars, in 1916 it was destroyed by an earthquake. Having rebuilt again, the brothers launched the production of an outboard 75 cc motor for bicycles, and in 1921 presented a complete motorcycle with a 98 cc 2-stroke engine. So Benelli is the oldest existing Italian motorcycle brand.
To advertise their products, the brothers took up racing, especially since the youngest, Tonino, had an undoubted talent for this business. In 1927, the first 4-stroke Benelli motorcycle debuted - a 175 cc, with an overhead camshaft driven by gears. This car, as well as its 250 cc and 500 cc variants put Benelli in the top five Italian motorcycle manufacturers, while Tonino Benelli and his teammate Dorino Serafini won a lot of Grand Prix. In 1938, Benelli motorcycles took three first places at the Italian Grand Prix in the 250 smz class, a year later the Englishman Ted Mellors won the same cubic capacity on the track of the legendary Tourist Trophy.
During the Second World War, the Benelli factory was bombed, but thanks to the brothers' enthusiasm, in 1947, the production of the first 125cc 2-stroke machine and later 4-stroke models with a working volume of 175 and 250 cmz was resumed. The victory was also facilitated by the victory of Dario Ambrosini in the 1950 World Cup: on a modified version of the pre-war apparatus, he won all but one of the Grand Prix. Alas, a year later Ambrosini died during training, and the company stopped participating in races. I returned to the track only in the 60s - with a 4-cylinder 250 cc motorcycle. In a direct fight with Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki, Tarquinho Provini and Renzo Pazolini won a lot of Grand Prix, and in 1969 Australian Kel Carruthers again brought the brand the world title.
Alessandro De Tomaso bought the company in 1971. In the 70s and 80s, the company mainly produced mopeds, scooters and lightweight 2-stroke motorcycles. But, as a rose on the cake - and multi-cylinder 4-stroke devices, the “leader” of the same model range was the impressive Sei, the world's first 6-cylinder road car. It appeared in 1972 in the 750 cc format, and in the 80s a 900 cc version was born. The company was made up of 4-cylinder models with cylinder volumes of 650, 500 and even 250 cmz.Almost all of the post-war years, the company produced a great variety of 50-cc machines. Almost all of the post-war years, the company produced a great variety of 50-cc machines.
Unfortunately, De Tomaso had little idea of the specifics of the motorcycle market, which led to the decline of the company. In 1989, it was bought by the local industrialist Giancarlo Selchi, the one who, ironically, began his career as a floor sweeper in Benelli workshops. Motorcycles were not of interest to Selça, and he re-specialized the plant for the production of woodworking machines. Only in the corner of one of the buildings did a handful of workers collect 50-cc cars - their presence in the production program provided tax benefits, and then, it was necessary to keep the brand so that there was an opportunity to resell.