APE - Chi l'acquista non li spende, li guadagna. In Italian, this means "one who acquires an APE, does not spend, but earns".
APE (pronounced Aah-Pey) is a brand well seen in India since the 50's and yet its name didn't strike the common man until 10 years back. But say the word Vespa and immediately, the first image that gathers in your mind is the humble scooter. Now, the names Vespa and APE are diametrically intertwined. Vespa, is a personal transport 2-wheeler while APE is the commercial transport equivalent that comes in 3 wheels. Both the brands are owned by the Piaggio Group.
And it all began in 1948, in Italy.
The brand APE was known by various names – Vespa Commercial (UK), Trivespa (France), Vespacar (Portugal), Vespa Lastenroller (Germany). In India, the vehicles were known by the name, Bajaj, who first used to import them and from 1971 started making them in Pune.
With a 125cc scooter engine until 1952, then 150cc engine that could take loads up to 350kg., the APE showed prowess as it could carry sizable amount of goods to every small street in the villages of Italy. In 1960, the APE brand acquire more international fame after their model C3 Calessino (see scale model, below) were used inside the Olympic Games Village in Rome.
In 1961, APE introduced the articulated (semi-pivot jointed vehicle whose rear can move independently) Pentaro 250 that featured the basic 3-wheeler with a separately attached rear trailer, increasing load capacity up to 700kg.
Times were changing and smaller businessmen moved to buy smaller 4 wheeled pick-up trucks that could take more loads and consumed lesser fuel. Piaggio had to change fast. APE came out with model TM in 2004 that had a steering wheel as well as a floor shift gear.
In 2007, Piaggio re-launched the APE Calessino to cater to guests in the resorts of Capri and Portofino in Italy. Only 999 pieces were made to maintain its exclusivity.
They even presented a "Made in India" one to Pope Benedict in 2008 with the papal coat of arms embossed.
In India, over the years, the brand Bajaj developed so strongly that the name APE disappeared from the Indian market. These Bajaj produced vehicles are still sometimes seen on Indian roads.
It was only in 1999 that Piaggio (owner of Vespa) started making APE vehicles at Baramati (Maharashtra) and in 2013, shifted their entire plant from Italy. Today APE as a brand is foremost when it comes to commercial 3-wheelers in the country.
One can also buy the Furgone, Pentaro, Calessino as scale model collectibles and place them in your display shelves (see images below)
Next time you see an APE, remember it's the same ‘Vespa' with 3 wheels.