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Orange, Black and Red – Ducati by Harley?

A colour palette mixed in motorcycle heaven?

There were suggestions soon after the emissions scandal that Volkswagen would look to sell some of the company’s non-core assets to fund settlements that are ranging into the many billions of dollars. Getting into the motorcycle business must have seemed glamorous when VW subsidiary Audi snapped up Ducati in 2012. Fellow German luxury brand BMW had its motorcycle division and now so did Audi. But too many fumes changed the environment and Ducati wasn’t a core business when Volkswagen looked around for big-ticket items they could unload. 

It was obvious that Ducati was going to go into play—again. Reuters has reported that Harley-Davidson has hired Wall Street bigwigs Goldman Sachs to look under the hood and possibly turn the wrenches on a Harley-Davidson purchase of Ducati. 

Harley has been down this road before and not in the too-distant past as The Motor Company briefly owned MV Agusta, the small boutique Italian marquee. It didn’t turn out so well, although it must have had some long-term effect as MV Agusta just unveiled its own CVO-ish bike complete with a skull logo. 

And then there was that other V-Twin sportbike maker that Harley once owned… But this union may not be such an unusual pairing. As a premier brand, Ducati is right near the top of the list. As a lifestyle brand, with the exception of Harley-Davidson, it’s at the top. Ducati riders are exceptionally loyal to the brand and happy to label themselves Ducatisti. They want to be immersed in the brand, hang with others of like mind, wear the clothes and buy the merchandise and the mystique is, like that of Harley-Davidson, based around the allure and visceral appeal of a great V-Twin. 

If the transaction goes through, and even more so if there is a bidding war among the interested parties, it isn’t going to be a bad deal for Volkswagen, aside from the fact that all the money will go to pay outstanding fines. Volkswagen’s asking price is reportedly a substantial US$1.6 billion. This was apparently enough to knock a few of the potential players—including some existing motorcycle manufacturers—out of the mix. 

And it is questionable whether any company wants to pay Volkswagen what it wants simply because Ducati is a “trophy” brand that it will look good owning—kind of like a fine Italian suit.

In a deal like this not everyone is going to be happy. Volkswagen’s labour unions that hold sway on the board don’t want to sell or, we can assume, lose the jobs. Some claim that cutting edge Ducati isn’t a match for tradition-bound Harley-Davidson. But Ducati has had several owners through the years and some had little to do with motorcycles. 

Just from 1985 Ducati has been owned by Cagiva and then most interesting to this discussion, another US company, Texas Pacific Group which would go on to sell it’s stake to Investindustrial, an Italian Investment fund, which would then sell to Audi but in the never-ending circle of a motorcycle tire, are said to be one of the bidders looking to get the company back. And just to fully circle back, Volkswagen’s head honcho had originally wanted to buy the brand back in 1984.

The bidding may commence in July so it shouldn’t be long before we know the fate of Ducati. The brand is too valuable, too established to go without any takers. If Harley-Davidson can leverage Ducati technology, expand its customer base and grow both divisions, it could be good for both the orange and black and the red marques. 

I, for one, would be interested in seeing a little more chrome and perhaps Ducati’s interpretation of a skull logo on the Panigale.

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