Ducati, the quintessentially Italian manufacturer of beautiful motorcycles, is looking forward to another good year. Sales are up in many of its major markets, and 2018 saw North American sales drop only slightly from their 2017 peak.
The company is reveling in its niche as a builder of bikes that are gorgeous, fast, and have impeccable handling. Ducati is often compared to automobile builder Ferrari in its exploitation of its spot in the marketplace. Like Ferrari, Ducati has invested heavily in racing. Unlike Ferrari, Ducati has devoted part of its model range to bikes that, while not cheap, are definitely affordable by more consumers.
“We carve out our own niche,” Jason Chinnock, CEO, Ducati North America, said.
Chinnock took the time to talk to MPN on the last leg of a 17-city tour of North American shows and dealers. A CEO who likes to get out and see what the customers are doing, he is more than busy, but is enjoying his hectic schedule. “I am a motorcycle enthusiast first,” he said. He is more than pleased with the 2019 crop of Ducatis, the direction the company is going and the customer base — and loves to talk about it. “Two wheels move the soul.”
While Ducati’s eye-catching sportbikes get most of the press, the company, now owned by the Audi division of Volkswagen, actually sells a diverse range of products. The Scrambler Ducati brand, introduced in 2015 and which often serves as an entry to the wonderful world of Ducati, has proven itself very popular. The Monster line is celebrating its 25th anniversary and claims to have launched the category of naked sportbikes. Monsters and Scramblers are especially attractive to women, now almost 20 percent of motorcycle buyers.
For model year 2019, the factory is showcasing the 998 cc Panigale V4 R, a production racer that can be ridden on the street. Producing 221 horsepower in street trim, with an optional exhaust that will bump up power to 234 hp, it is the most powerful road Ducati to date. Other new models include three new versions of the 803 cc Scrambler: the flat-track-inspired Full Throttle, the Café Racer and the dualsport Desert Sled. Three Scrambler models now come with a larger 1079 cc powerplant. The Diavel and the Hypermotard have both received upgrades, as has the Monster.
Chinnock points out that people buy Ducatis because they form a visceral connection to the bike. “There is no logical reason to buy a Ducati. We are essentially in the entertainment business. A Ducati is what people choose so they can have more fun in their lives.” The Panigale is now the No. 1 selling superbike worldwide. Ducati works hard at maintaining its sport image, fielding both a MotoGP and a World Superbike team. Ducati North America sponsors track days at Circuit of the Americas in Texas and Laguna Seca in California, and is planning to assist a privateer contesting MotoAmerica. “We really enjoy the spirit of the privateer,” Chinnock said. Ducati NA events usually showcase video of recent racing events.
As important as racing is to the Ducati image, the sportbike market has not expanded in the last 10 years. Chinnock said that in order for Ducati to grow the brand and get new people excited about Ducati, “We have to be disarming and not intimidating. We have to get away from the idea that Ducatis are only for really experienced motorcyclists. We want to extend the brand to other people besides the hardcore sportbike crowd.”
The less technical and more accessible Scrambler has opened up marketing opportunities for Ducati. “A Scrambler is pure joy,” Chinnock said. “I have a Desert Sled and probably put more miles on it than any other Ducati I own.”
In order to bring Ducatis and joy to larger numbers of Americans, Ducati marketing hit the road. “We converted a yellow school bus — you know, the kind of bus you went to grade school on — into a Scrambler bus. We took it to different events around the country and got to talk to people who don’t necessarily know how to ride. We want people, whether they now ride or not, to know that a Ducati Scrambler is joy. We sell the Scrambler as our entry-level Ducati; something that a new rider can ride right now and will still be happy with when they get more experience on a motorcycle. When a dealer sells a Scrambler, there is a gift card for motorcycle safety training that goes along with it. We have now incorporated cornering ABS in all the Scrambler models, which is important to new riders.”
In addition to marketing the Scrambler, Ducati has taken other steps to make it easier for the new rider to enjoy a Ducati. Service intervals are now longer, reducing cost of ownership. Ducati NA is also working with Ducati financial services to lower interest rates and monthly payments.
“Our other models are keyed to what motivates a person to buy. Take the Diavel, for example,” Chinnock said. (The Diavel is a cruiser, but with the kind of handling and power delivery that straightens out a twisty road.) “We aimed it at people who have been riding cruisers built by other brands, but start thinking, ‘There’s got to be more.’ Other Diavel owners may have ridden sportbikes a few years ago, but are now getting to the age when they want a little more comfort.”
Chinnock moves on to the connection between the OEM and the local dealer. “We have recently changed our marketing strategy. Currently, we are investing in dealer education. We are selling a premium product and we need to ensure our dealers deliver a premium experience for the customer. We have found that if the customer has a good experience with the buying process, they are more willing to pay a premium price. If the customer experience is so-so, they start to bargain. A dealer should be an ambassador and a promoter for the brand.”
Keeping his eye on the customers, Chinnock feels that motorcycling is becoming less fractured and less cliquey. “You are able to be a motorcyclist and not limit yourself to one style of riding.” He has noticed a trend toward small displacement bikes. “Smaller displacement bikes feed into the next generation. However, with the Scrambler, we have a bike that a new rider can control but that he or she won’t outgrow in a year.”
Ducati, as a company, is committed to delivering a little bit of MotoGP with every ride. “We are delivering an experience, not a product,” Chinnock said. “We need to continue to deliver that experience for all motorcyclists — those who buy new and those who buy used. We have a lot of confidence in our brand. We want to minimize the roadblocks to experiencing Ducati.”