In what has to be the biggest news of the spring riding season, German luxury car manufacturer Audi has announced its intention to acquire ownership of Ducati. Although the somewhat controversial deal is still subject to approval by the respective antitrust authorities, the formalities are expected to be finalised within the next few months.
“I am confident that the Audi Group will allow Ducati to continue strengthening its position in markets around the world,” said Gabriele Del Torchio, Ducati’s CEO. “The announcement confirms the positive reinforcement of Ducati made in 2006 under the control of the Investindustrial Group.”
It was the Investindustrial Group that had hung the for sale sign on Ducati.
Investindustrial acquired Ducati in 2006 and managed to turn the company’s fortunes around, transforming it into one of the most profitable motorcycle brands in the world. It was also Investindustrial’s globalisation plans that had led to Ducati opening a factory in Thailand in 2011 and its expansion into fast growing markets such as Brazil, China and India. As a result, 80 percent of Ducati’s sales now come from foreign markets.
During that time Ducati has been busy, launching 17 new models under Investindustrial’s control including the Multistrada 1200 in 2010, the Diavel in 2011 and most recently, the 2012 Panigale superbike.
“Ducati has thrived with us,” commented Andrea C. Bonomi, the Chairman of Investindustrial on the recent sale. “We are convinced that the company [Ducati] will continue to provide a bright and rewarding future to its customers and employees in the very capable hands of Audi. We believe that Audi is the best partner to continue the globalisation process that has already been successfully initiated.” As if to alleviate any concerns Ducati employees might be having, Bonomi added, “I am convinced Audi will be a responsible new owner, preserving the Italian workforce. Ducati has a loyal and growing customer base, which will be well looked after thanks to Audi and Volkswagen Group’s global presence and engineering excellence.”
Audi has stated that the transaction would be completed as quickly as possible. The approval of the acquisition was given by the Supervisory Boards of AUDI AG and Volkswagen AG on April 18, 2012 in Hamburg.
Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler said in a press release that “as a sporty, global premium brand, Ducati is an excellent fit for Audi.” He went on to describe the sport bike manufacturer as the “third pillar” for Audi in Italy. The first two pillars, or other Italian brands that have already been taken over by the German luxury car manufacturer, is Lamborghini and Italdesign. Along those lines, Ducati is seen as yet another building block in Audi’s long-term growth strategy.
In an attempt to answer the growing speculation on Ducati’s true value to Audi, Stadler added “Ducati is known worldwide as a premium brand among motorcycle manufacturers and has a long tradition of building sporty motorcycles. It has great expertise in high-performance engines and lightweight construction, and is one of the world’s most profitable motorcycle manufacturers. That makes Ducati an excellent fit for Audi.”
More specifically, Stadler indicated that it was Ducati’s progressive control systems and special combustion chamber process technologies, along with their experience in lightweight engine construction, which was of greatest interest to both Audi and its parent company, the VW Group.
Ducati has manufacturing operations at its headquarters in Bologna and at a factory in Thailand. Industry experts, presumably those who Audi have listened to, are predicting that the motorcycle market will experience a strong growth over the next few years, predominantly in Asia. Clearly, they’re also expecting the bikes from Bologna to continue in their worldwide popularity.
Currently employing some 1,100 people, Ducati sold approximately 42,000 motorcycles in 2011, generating revenue of over €480 million.
If Audi and Ducati have at least one thing in common, it has to be their history and passion for racing. Ducati’s racing division Ducati Corse is currently running an official factory team in the MotoGP World Championship and supports private teams in the Superbike World Championship (SBK). Ducati has actually won the SBK manufacturers’ title 17 times. Similarly, Audi has dominated endurance racing for so long now that it has to challenge itself by incorporating new technologies in its prototype cars.
Placing Ducati under Audi’s wing, not only enters the company in motorcycle racing, it also heats up its rivalry with BMW, challenging the Bavarian company for the first time in the motorcycle market as well as luxury car sales.
Third party reports claim that buying Ducati has cost Audi around $1.12-billion (USD), an amount that includes Ducati’s current approximate debt of $262-million (USD). There’s a Canadian connection to the story as well. Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan, a leading Canadian investor, was a Ducati shareholder but has sold its stakes in the company to Audi as part of the deal.
Critics of the deal, and there have been many, have likened the acquisition to a trophy hunt and accused VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, who personally owns a Ducati superbike, as being nothing more than a collector of rare and exotic brand names.
In a Reuters story, the news agency quoted Arndt Ellinghorst, an analyst at London-based Credit Suisse, as having stated that the purchase was “Driven by VW’s passion for nameplates rather than industrial or financial logic. It’s an unnecessary sideshow to VW’s main challenges of integrating sports-car maker Porsche and merging truck operations at MAN and Scania.”
Supporting this claim is Ducati’s 2010 earnings of €71-million on €390-million revenue, which is said to be merely a drop in the bucket for the VW Group, Germany’s most profitable manufacturer. However, adding Ducati has grown its portfolio to an even dozen brands, the most well known of which include Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Ducati, Lamborghini, MAN, Porsche, Scania, SEAT, and Skoda.