VW/Audi Buys Ducati. Why?

April 18th, 2012

2012 Ducati Corse Evo 848SE

Italian motorcycle maker Ducati makes some of the world’s finest motorcycles and superbikes. It’s been doing so since 1926, winning the 2011 World Superbike Championship and 17 other world titles. Their machines are gorgeous.

Audi reportedly will take over the firm today for $1.1 billion—chump change for Volkswagen but another jewel in its trophy quest to own the best, now including Lamborghini, Bentley and Bugatti. (And nine other brands, including two heavy-duty truck makers—Scania AG and MAN SE.)

Ducati’s revenue is “more than Lamborghini’s and Bugatti’s combined, but to the automotive operations, it’s a mere accessory.” So remarked a Frankfurt-based analyst with IHS Automotive. It’s “strategically insignificant” for Volkswagen, he said.

Volkswagen Führer Ferdinand Piëch is the reason. He’s a motorcycle freak and has been drooling for Ducati since it first went up for auction in 2008. The nominal reason offered is that the buy will now give Audi a chance to go head to head with BMW on motorcycles.

Ferdinand Piëch

According to Reuters and one of its analysts, the deal also shows “how much VW’s 17 billion euro [$22.3 billion U.S.] pile of cash was burning a hole in its pocket.” The company needs (by law?) to find investments or distribute the extra cash in dividends to shareholders.

Honda, the industry leader, sold over 16 million cycles last year. Ducati makes some 40,000 bikes a year, but demand for the big sportbikes has dropped sharply owing to the financial crisis. A BMW spokesman said the market for big bikes has fallen by half and shows no real sign of recovering.

Motorbike technology doesn’t carry over into the automotive world either. Bikers want blinding acceleration (like 0-100 kph in 3 seconds), top speed, very light weight and extreme cornering ability. The physics of two-wheelers is something entirely different from that of cars.

So now King Ferdinand has his twelve jewels in the VW crown, exactly the number he said he wanted back in 2009. He also has twelve children.

Will Audi’s purchase of Ducati enhance the brand? Will it sell more motorcycles?

—jgoods

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  1. June 16th, 2012 at 03:09 | #1

    Hey .. What you mean by heck companies and holding FIAT under that?
    .. VW are profit freaks, their products have good engieering but no soul or feel and its obvious from their customers. Lamborghini lost its brand stance when audi bought it, though it turned profitable. Its obvious that though lamborghini has more outlets, movie franchise and far good engineering, it still can’t beat fiat’s ferrari cuz ferrari cares for its soul that profit whereas VW want only profit out of lambo.

  2. Randy
    April 19th, 2012 at 06:48 | #2

    Well, if you’re going to buy a motorcycle company, Ducati is a great one to have. BMW makes really terrific bikes, and I’m betting Audi can continue the excellent Ducati name and even add some interesting new twists. Given Piech’s love for bikes, I doubt he will do anything to hurt the brand. (Thank god a hack company like GM or Fiat didn’t buy Ducati!)

  3. April 18th, 2012 at 18:52 | #3

    Let’s hope the Germans don’t screw up the best motorcycle on earth. BMW are finally beginning to build comparable sport bikes, but they’re still years behind the Italians. The Japanese build some of the best sport bikes in the world, which cost one third as much as a Ducati, they are very close, but their best liter bikes weigh almost 100 pounds more than Ducati’s top offering. That creates a huge difference in performance when were talking sport bikes.

  4. panayoti
    April 18th, 2012 at 14:37 | #4

    Even if motorcycle technology doesn’t carry over to cars, a blonde, brunette, or redhead will increase sales and if they don’t, find a bald one. If something moves your testosterone levels, why not? Last I checked testosterone levels are what its all about especially if it is the bosses.

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