Ducati Stretches Its Sex Appeal

Courtesy Ducati

Can the exclusive Italian superbike manufacturer change its game without sacrificing its reputation? Necessity suggests the brand has no other choice—if it wants to survive.

It came as a surprise to supercar purists when, in 2012, Lamborghini first hinted that it would release an SUV—a vehicle seemingly antithetical to the brand’s aggressively impractical essence. But what may be experienced by some as a sign of brand suicide is actually an act of survival: The performance-oriented Urus is expected to double Lamborghini’s sales once it hits stores by the end of this year. In the eternal quest for increased market share, the automaker known for its fiendish six- and seven-figure supercars has had no choice but to diversify. And in this competitive market, they’re not the only ones.

The 90 year-old Ducati brand is the Lamborghini of motorcycles: exclusive, expensive, performance oriented, and effusively Italian. The brands’ spirits have only become more kindred since 2012, when the motorcycle marque became a wholly owned subsidiary of Lamborghini (itself owned by German carmaker Audi, and part of the Volkswagen Group). And just like its hyper-potent owner, Ducati has begun to dip its toe into the market beyond the high-speed, high-price racing bikes for which its known.


Working on a Ducati Multistrada. Courtesy Ducati

This year alone, Ducati plans to release eight new bikes across a number of new, more accessible segments the brand has shied away from in the past. New models include the Multistrada 950, a touring “multibike” (January 2017, $13,995); a suite of Scramblers, as part of the two-year-old sub-brand, including the off-roading Desert Sled (March 2017, $11,395) and a 1960s-inspired Café Racer (April 2017, $11,395); and a versatile, entry-level sport/comfort SuperSport (April 2017, $12,995). The XDiavel, a cruiser intended for an aging buyer (someone over 40 in motorcycle-speak), launched in December 2016 ($23,495).

These additions are a far cry from the developments of previous years, which saw R&D dollars generally go to making their superbikes ever faster and more technically advanced. But those investments have had an unforeseen side effect: As progress has allowed high-end motor vehicles to become incredibly fast, safe, and easy to drive, access to the full experience they offer has become almost impossible to achieve on public roads.


The Ducati Scrambler Café Racer. Courtesy Ducati

“The risk,” says Jason Chinnock, CEO of Ducati North America, “is that the motorcycles, like supercars, get so far advanced that it limits their actual use.” The brand had to adapt or perish—or at least, start collecting cobwebs in the garage. Already the move seems to be paying off. Global sales are up nearly 25 percent, reaching a record 55,450 bikes purchased in 2016. Part of this can be attributed directly to the new offerings, especially the Scramblers, which immediately became Ducati’s bestseller when the line was introduced in 2015. “It was very important for us to able to expand,” Chinnock says. “Now I can say that we cover about 60 percent of all motorcycle segments, versus in the past where we were around 23 percent [with just superbikes].”

“There are always going to be purists out there,” says Milton Pedraza, CEO of luxury research and consulting firm the Luxury Institute. “But I think most of us are willing to accept a more sedate, or different versions of a brand that is still in the same category. The Ducati brand has a sex appeal, besides the performance appeal.”


The Ducati XDiavel. Courtesy Ducati

Ducati won't completely leave its past behind: In May, the brand will debut the 1299 Superleggera ($80,000), the fastest twin-cylinder in history (at 215 horsepower) and first-ever street-legal full-carbon fiber structure superbike. But the marque will continue its expansion into existing and incipient categories moving forward. Chinnock hasn’t ruled out a fully electric motorcycle, which, with its instant power, stealthy silence, and eco-friendly approach, may soon garner significant demand. “It’s something that we’ve continuously looked at, but the technology isn’t at the point yet where we can insure the proper experience for our brand,” he says, citing Ducati’s rousing heritage, founded in part on its aggressive and mechanical sound.

One style Ducati fans likely won’t find any time soon, however, is a self-driving motorcycle. “I think that autonomy has an excellent place in the world of transportation, but why people get on a motorcycle is not necessarily to move from point A to point B,” Chinnock says. “We ride to escape, we ride for sport, we ride to clear our head. That’s the difference between entertainment and transportation.”