Why Must Ducati Change

Ducati is one of the last "big boys" still firmly anchored in the high-end market, but it looks like change is mercilessly forcing Borgo Panigale to revise the course of action. Maybe not in 2014 or 2015, but this change WILL come, and its name is Small Displacement.
Rumor has it, somebody at Ducati is thinking about a maxi-scooter. Such a thought would have equaled utter blasphemy 15 years ago, but today, this plan sounds like a good plan, even though I can almost hear the purist ducatisti decrying the fall of their favorite brand.

In fact, the markets and the whole economy have changed so much during the last decade that I could say that brands that will not change will be the first to fall. Inertia and rigidity have never been the answer for all the problems, and they are even less an answer today.

While manufacturers like Honda, Yamaha and Suzuki go a long time back with their huge line-up of small-displacement bikes and scooters, others have recently understood that bigger is no longer better.

And if you look at BMW and – even more surprisingly – Harley-Davidson, you'll start seeing what they saw: opportunity. A business must evolve and be dynamic in order to grow. And a basic rule in economy clearly states it that a stagnant business is a "sick" business.

Brands either grow or decline, a long "warm and cozy" stagnant period is something unwanted, because it usually signals that something is amiss.

The enemy of stagnant times is dynamism, and when it comes to the motorcycle industry, there's no better source to find a path to follow than listening to what the customers and potential ones have to say.

Even an exclusive manufacturer like MV Agusta is taking steps that were almost unthinkable 20 year ago, with their all-new Turismo Veloce 800. Is the brand declining? I'd say it's quite the opposite direction, as a business grows by actually selling bikes, and being able to find something to meet the needs of the customer is the key.

Ducati has made the first steps in this direction years ago, with the introduction of the Hypermotard and the Multistrada, but this happened in another age, if I may say so. It may be that such "ages" cycle a bit too fast, but one is better off trying to cope with this, than to fight the natural passing of time.

The motorcycle world is bringing the small-displacement machines back into the spotlight, and many makers got that. I am pretty sure that both Ducati and Audi did, too. However, there is still much inertia at play in Ducati's case, because of the very nature of their business.

They are used to building multiple bikes with the same engine. This is, of course, very productive, but the peak efficiency of this approach has rather passed and the brand needs something new. Something fresh. Another bright star to shine in the showroom and on the streets around the world... because the luster of the old red paint is no longer enough.

With the new Monster 1200 things are only half-new, or even less, because the philosophy behind the bike is the same: we get a bigger Monster, dump the air-cooled mill and replace it with the cool engine of the Diavel. Ta-daa, a new bike!

Yes, and not quite, because we're still looking at pretty much the same parts. I don't want to downplay Ducati's efforts with the new Monster, but new riders dreaming about riding a Bolognese bike will never get a Monster 1200.

It's out of their league on the legal side and it's also out of their reach on the financial side. Ducati should start to reach out to those fellows... with new, more affordable, smaller bikes. And these bikes will surely sell very well in emerging markets.

They will also bring money from huge markets, such as India or China. A slow debut it might be, but with the right approach and the right price, things will turn out profit. And this drives the business, right?

Even Erik Buell understood that the high-end market is no longer what it used to be. An iconic sport bikes manufacturer, Erik Buell Racing has chosen to deliver more affordable, yet high-performance bikes, and things start looking good once more after many years.

The fact that a bike is selling for a more affordable price does not make its manufacturer look bad. Ducati can very well keep manufacturing machines like the Supeleggera, and at the same time move lots of bikes.

I know Audi is very keen to make Ducati grow and get past the 100,000-unit mark, but with exclusive bikes only, this goal is an impossible one.

With bikes like the expected Scrambler and the rumored maxi-scooter, things could be much different. And even more, with a new engine, especially engineered to power up the new segment.

It may be that Ducati outing some 3 or more bikes based on the same, say 500cc-ish mill, will see more units sold than what their esteemed 848 sells.

As for the scooter segment... it's all down to how bold Ducati is and how they will play the card. While it's now rather hard to say whether a 700cc maxi-scooter would be THE move or it should be complemented by one or two smaller models, one thing is sure: a lot of guys would love to ride a fairly-priced Ducati scooter.

I know that “cheap” is probably a banned word at Ducati, but again, there's no prestige to lose by becoming a manufacturer with a flexible offer, and the things to be won outweigh drastically the sadness of the purists.

They could also do better and understand that the Panigale will remain unchanged, and the Diavel will always be the Diavel. And that the rumored Ducati scooter is not gunning them down, but is helping introduce them to the future customer.
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