Zanella Motor. Argentine Oldest Motorcycles Motorcycles Is Recovering

Zanella Ceccato 250

Zanella Motor is a ancient Argentine brand. After to risk bankruptcy in 2020, it is recovering. In 2022 sales kept growing with 48.024 registrations (+19.1%), 90% made in Argentina and the rest in Uruguay.

Zanella Motor, a well-established Argentine brand founded in 1948, has made a truly dramatic comeback after being on the verge of bankruptcy five years ago.

In 2022, its sales were up 19.1% to 48,024 units — a remarkable turnaround from the situation in 2019 when all four factories were closed and much of its stock had been auctioned.

The company was founded by Italian brothers Juan and Santiago Zanella together with Ariodante Marcer and Mario De Lásica, who had emigrated from Italy shortly after the end of World War 2.  The company was named Zanella Hermanos.

Zanella Hermanos began by producing car parts and accessories for Fiat and Peugeot.  In 1957 it established a factory at Caseros in Buenos Aires after entering a licencing agreement with Italian motorcycle manufacturer Ceccato.  Motorcycle production began with 100cc and 125cc models using an engine designed by famed Ducati engineer Fabio Taglioni.  Many of the components were made in the Caseros factory.

A contract with Italian manufacturer Piaggio was signed in 1970 and by the end of the 1980s the Argentine company was exporting scooters to many South American countries, as well as North America and Africa.

In 1990 Zanelli partnered with Yamaha and began producing Moto Minarelli-powered machines.  (Minarelli was owned by Yamaha in that period).  It continued that up to 1999 when the company got into financial trouble.

Change of ownership

Swiss engineer Walter Steiner took control of the company, acquiring 51% of the shares.  Soon his family owned 100% of the company.  Steiner was voted CEO in September 1999.

Seven years later, Zanella was Number One in ATV sales in Argentina and by 2010 it was the motorcycle sales leader, its range of locally manufactured motorcycles rounded out with imported Chinese machines assembled at its Buenos Aires plants.

The company later branched out into the white goods sector, under the brand name Ariston-Zanella.

Zanella celebrated its 70th anniversary in 2018 with all historical and current dealers invited to the party.  As part of its 70th celebrations, the company made a splash with a big stand at the first Salon Moto Argentina in Buenos Aires.


Dark days

A year later, the company was in deep trouble.  Sales had slumped 70% due to a fall in demand and by August 2019, a downsizing process began with 32 workers fired at the San Luis factory.  By then production had stopped at the Mar del Plata factory and the workforce at the Córdoba factory was cut.  In October 2019 the Caseros plant was closed, with 70 employees losing their jobs.

In what was described as the end of its activity in Argentina, on December 5, 2019 the company began auctioning off machinery and on December 12, 2019 it held a second auction of trucks, cars, semi-trailers and generating sets with motorcycles, utility vehicles, helmets and ATVs going under the hammer next day.

According to a December 12, 2019 statement from CEO Walter Steiner, on December 27, 2019, a general meeting of shareholders in San Luis, was to consider “the sale of the Zanella brand and other brands and property rights of the company and authorization of furniture and real estate.

This would have resulted in a further 100 job losses.

Financial lifeline

Somehow the company battled on, weathering the COVID-19 shutdowns and by December 2020 it had entered into a financing agreement with El Banco de la Nación Argentina (BNA).

Somehow it managed to sell 17,539 motorcycles in 2020 but in 2021 a recovery was well underway with sales of 40,345 units.

In 2022 sales kept growing, up to 48,024 units ( a 19.1% increase).  The majority of these (90%) were made in Argentina, the remainder in Uruguay.

During more than 75 years of operations, Zanella has produced some 2.5 million motorcycles.

Located in Caseros, near Buenos Aires, the company operates with two plants, one in Caseros and one in San Luis.

Zanella produces a wide range of products, including scooters, commuter motorcycles, quads.  However, only the mopeds are manufactured in Argentina, at its plants in Caseros and San Luis; while almost all other products are imported; usually in the form of knock-down kits, from leading Chinese manufacturer CF Moto.

In an acknowledgement of its history, it also produces a range of retro-styled machines under the Ceccato name, harking back to the company’s roots.

Author: Michael Esdaile