Has Ducati’s Success Flat-Lined?

02/27/2015 @ 4:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler47 COMMENTS


The saying goes that one time is a fluke, two times is a coincidence, but three times…three times is a trend. Looking at Ducati’s last three years of sales (2012-2014), which spans only a 2% margin of growth, by definition one has to conclude that the Italian company is experiencing sales stagnation.

Granted each of the last three years have been record years for the Italian motorcycle company’s sales figures, but each year has been a nudging over the last, seemingly at the cost of Ducati dealers who have found more and more inventory on their showroom floors.

But it shouldn’t surprise Ducati followers to hear the recent departure of Cristiano Silei, Ducati’s now-former Vice President of Sales and Marketing. With Ducati seemingly hitting a wall on expansion and model diversity, Silei’s departure may have been expected in some circles, and certainly all eyes will be on his successor Andrea Buzzoni, to see what he can do with the role.

Is all of this a sign that Ducati has lost its magic, seemingly during the leadership transition from Gabriele del Torchio to Claudio Domenicali? Or is there growth to be had from the Italian brand, now that it is owned by Audi AG? We examine that thought in more detail, after the jump.

2011 – 42,200 Total Units – 16.6% Growth

The last full-year of Ducati’s ownership by Investindustrial et al, 2011 was also Ducati’s last full-year with Gabriele del Torchio at the helm of the Italian motorcycle company. Additionally, 2011 was the first year that Ducati broke 40,000 units since the recession, if not for the first time ever.

The big motorcycle release this year was the Ducati Diavel, with an “EVO” update coming to the Monster 1100 as well. The Diavel gave Ducati a 16.6% sales bump, continuing the previous year’s growth of 5%, where Ducati unveiled the popular and new Multistrada 1200 platform.

While 2012 would post larger total sales numbers, I would argue that it is here where Ducati hits its zenith, which should come as little surprise since it’s the same point in time that the Italians were shopping their company to German automakers. Buy low, sell high.

2012 – 44,102 Total Units – 4.5% Growth

In April of this year, Audi (through Lamborghini) officially purchased Ducati for € 747 million, and Domenicali was officially tapped to replace Del Torchio. By this point in time, the year’s new models had already been shown to the public, and were starting to hit dealerships around the world.

Posting 4.5% growth for 2012, it should surprise no one that the cause of this growth was the starlet that is the Ducati 1199 Panigale. The Ducati Streetfighter 848 also debuted this year, though it was responsible for significantly fewer sales.

Ducati’s sales strategy up to this point in time had been simple: introduce one completely new model each year, which pushed into segments that the Italian brand did not have a serious interest before hand, and include several model updates to keep the older models fresh in the eyes of consumers.

This is evidenced by the Hypermotard, Multistrada, and Diavel three-step big-unveil combo that brought Ducati into the 40,000 unit figure, and the constant slew of “EVO” models that accompanied them.

With this process now finally looping back on the aging Superbike line — Ducati’s bread and butter line for over a decade — in 2012 — we see the company hitting its last growth spurt with the debut of the Panigale, which reaffirmed the Bologna brand’s commitment to its Superbike roots.

2013 – 44,287 Total Units – 0.4% Growth

With the passing of the leadership baton now cemented, 2013 is the first full year of Ducati’s ownership by Audi AG, as well as Domenicali’s first full-year at the helm of the Bologna brand.

Post-recession, this is Ducati’s weakest model year lineup, with the Italian company’s “new” models being the water-cooled Hypermotard, with its Hyperstrada variant (along with the forgettable Diavel Strada model) as well.

A segment that historically has not been a strong seller for Ducati, it should surprise no one that the Hypermotard 821 didn’t move the needle for Bologna.

Perhaps knowing that the Hypermotard would gain only as much fanfare as its predecessor, Bologna also released the Ducati 1199 Panigale R, which was the first production machine from Ducati to cross the 200hp barrier (with its included race exhaust).

While certainly catching the fancy of Ducatisti, the high-priced Panigale R did little to contribute to overall sales. With no bold new bike coming from Borgo Panigale, a sales leader doesn’t materialize for this year, a Ducati sales are left stale.

The talk of 2013 though is the Ducati 899 Panigale, which debuted in September of thatyear and was ready for dealers before 2014 could arrive.

Conspiracy theorists would likely be right in their theory that Ducati released the 899 so late in the year as to keep the company’s positive growth trend alive on its sales, as the middleweight superbike model surely is the reason that Ducati’s sales growth stayed in the black for 2013.

Had Bologna not pushed the 899 out the door so quickly, 2014 would surely have looked like a stronger year (it only got a boost of say a thousand units from the 899) than it did with some of those sales going in the fall/winter of 2013.

2014 – 45,100 Total Units – 2% Growth

Instead the big growth models for Ducati  in 2014 were the Monster 821 (released mid-year) and the Monster 1200 — which took the multi-model air-cooled Monster line into the realm of liquid cooling, and outside the realm of a sub-$10,000 motorcycles.

The Ducati Monster 1200 covers an overlap shared by the Monster 1100 and the Streetfighter 1098, while the Monster 821 remained the company’s “entry-level” machine.

As the sales show, neither bike pushed the needle very far, which may have something to do with the fact that Ducati was shrinking the Monster line from three models to two, not to mention finally killing off the Streetfighter 1098 line. Replacing these four machines, with only two models.

That ploy might have worked for Ducati, and helped boost revenue, but the water-cooled Monsters were found to be lacking a certain je ne sais quoi that the old Monsters had in spades. Their reception by the buying public was tepid, which may or may not be surprising considering the warm welcome they got in the mainstream press.

Surprisingly, accounting for more than half of Ducati’s sales growth in 2014 was the release of the Ducati 1199 Superleggera. Said to be the pet project of Ducati’s CEO himself, the Superleggera had the added benefit of pushing 500 easy sales out through the Ducati dealer network…at quite the premium.

500 units may not sound like much in the grand scheme of things, but in a year that grew by only 800 units for Ducati, the Superleggera was a game-changer and gave the Italian company another much-needed year of positive sales.

Unfortunately as MV Agusta has shown, you can only release so many “special edition” machines before the buying public becomes tired of the gimmick, and sees nothing special in your special edition models.

2015 & Onward

With the Superleggera one of the most expensive motorcycles to come from Borgo Panigale, it’s not until this year that we see Ducati introduce a proper “budget” motorcycle back into its lineup — something that would be appropriate for a new rider to purchase.

The Ducati Scrambler is of course the model I am talking about, and despite the machines heavy hipster marketing machine, its appeal has spread to veteran and new riders, men and women, and even millennials and boomers.

Ducati has big hopes for the Scrambler, internally expecting a 20% overall sales increase, courtesy of the machine. Aiding that figure is the all-new 2015 Ducati Multistrada, which debuts the Desmodromic Variable Timing (DVT), along with a refreshed Diavel, not to mention the updated and newly named Ducati 1299 Panigale superbike line.

Updating its star performers to keep them relevant in increasingly competitive segments is a strong move by Ducati, but the addition of the Scrambler is perhaps the company’s masterstroke, and the first sign of life from the Domenicali regime.

Add into the fact that Ducati looks capable of competing at the front of the World Superbike Championship, and that there are signs of righting the ship in the MotoGP Championship, and Ducati is finally looking on-track again — no pun intended.

What will come after 2015 though will be the real determiner for Domenicali and his Audi overlords. The likely sign is that we will see more Scrambler models, with various engine sizes, continuing to come forth — likely not from Borgo Panigale, but from Thailand.

Lifestyle selling will be key, as the current Scrambler models produce almost no profit for Ducati and its dealers. Instead, Bologna hopes that the apparel and customization parts, which carry high-margins, will fill the revenue void, with the Scrambler acting as a sort of loss-leader.

The hardest transition for Ducati of course will be the realization that its home market is growing increasingly irrelevant. North America is now Ducati’s largest market, and the growth for the Ducati brand is clearly in Asia and South America.

To reach BMW numbers, something which is surely the intent of Audi AG, Ducati will have to look past its own nationalism, and evaluate the motorcycle market on a global scale.

This means models specific for regions like the USA, Southeast Asia, India, and South America. This also means targeting those markets with dedicated resources. And, this means prioritizing foreign markets over Italy, including at press launches, where Italian journalists outnumber the rest of the world 2:1.

It will be interesting to see what fruits 2015 bares for Ducati, and what Domenicali’s plan for the company looks like in a post-recession, post-Del Torchio, Audi-owned world.

Photo: Ducati

  • Ulysses Araujo

    No particular love for South America up until now; despite establishing local production in Brazil, new Monsters (821’s & 1200’s), Babygales (899’s) and 1299’s are nowhere to be seen (and not announced) in Brazil and Argentina. High acquisition prices (even compared to other premium brands) don’t help either. This explains why Ducati’s sales (http://www.asphaltandrubber.com/news/ducati-2014-yearly-sales/) pales compared to BMW (http://www.asphaltandrubber.com/news/bmw-motorrad-sales-2014/).

  • Piglet2010

    “Lifestyle selling will be key, as the
    current Scrambler models produce almost no actual revenue for Ducati and
    its dealers. Instead, Bologna hopes that the apparel and customization
    parts, which carry high-margins, will fill the revenue void, with the
    Scrambler acting as a sort of loss-leader.”

    With enough Lifestyle™ hype, a motorcycle company does not even need a competitive product – right Mr. Davidson?

  • Jack Meoph

    If they can’t churn out the Scrambler in suitable numbers to satisfy demand, they’re kinda hosed. Those that the dealers have, will get marked up due to demand and lack of product, and the reason to buy them in the first place (decent pricing) will be gone. I bought a 2014 Monster 796 and I’m glad, sort of. It looks the business, Ducati wise, even if it’s not all that in actual performance. Still plenty of bike for the streets though. As far as buying into the Ducati “lifestyle” ….. I don’t think so. This Monster will probably be the first and last Ducati I ever buy. There are a lot more motorcycles out there that give more value than Ducati, and I’ll only buy the nameplate once. I bought the 796 for less than MSRP OTD, but could have bought more motorcycle for the price from any of the Japanese manufacturers, but I wanted to buy a Ducati before the dirt nap.

  • XL2C

    (Beautiful, JB. LLAP.)

  • XL2C

    Ducati’s story sounds eerily similar to Ferrari’s.

  • Richard cranium

    Won’t they be churning them out of Thailand?

  • Cristovao Morgado

    I’m a proud owner of a 2010 Multistrada 1200S … the bike despite being almost 5 years old is very current on features , reliability etc etc . So I’m very less inclined to buy the new DVT version with all the rings and bells.

    I did just bought a Scrambler (the difference price from my MTS and the new version was the cost of the scrambler!!)

    The economy has changed since 2010 .. before that most of us you would change bike just for a new color scheme… now…. spending money is more … rational…because it’s harder to make money.

    That’s why companies are turning to Asia and emerging markets.. they are us 10 to 20 years ago.. eager to spend money!

  • keithwwalker

    ‘Lifestyle’ bikes, not my taste, but I suppose this is the current generations bland version of the original Monster. I still think Audi is gonna get hosed if this is their grand strategy for volume. Its too bad the Supermono never happened – I always thought Italian style is not comlete with some engineering flair

  • AHA

    Good insight – thought provoking stuff. So, musing out loud: Ducati have always wrestled with adding growth while still maintaining the premium brand perception. Few brands have done this better than BMW Auto and it’s interesting to see how BMW Motorrad have struggled in comparison which kinda shows the difficulty Ducati faces. We all know growth comes from developing new products & new markets. Adding to the range going forward will mean some cannibalising sales from existing models, a problem Ducati might suffer from more than other brands given a lot of buyers are buying the name on the tank first & the specific model second. On the other hand, BRIC markets don’t seem particularly receptive to high spec, high cost, high capacity motorcycles do they? that said, I’d rather have to launch the Scrambler there than the other models, right?

  • Sam

    Can you turn that high-powered insight at Suzuki? The emperor
    from Hamamatsu has no clothes.

  • Superlight

    Maybe Ducati doesn’t need to increase sales by 10% every year. Part of the brand attraction is that you don’t see a Duck on every street corner. Go where the competitors aren’t – like the Superleggera and the Diavel. There is also a need for a super touring bike that isn’t an adventure bike – a new ST model, where Ducati could leverage Italian style now that their bikes have competitive valve adjustment intervals.

  • VForce

    +1. They need an ST replacement big time. BMW’s main growth has come from the K1600 GT and GTL. Awesome machines. The GS is still their best selling model but the growth has been minimal. If Ducati had an ST based on the 1199 Paningale motor with the tech of the Multi they would have a home run for sure.

  • Jack Meoph

    Yes they will.
    Tariffs and labor costs, etc etc.

  • Piglet2010

    The bike of the future for the US will be something similar to the Honda Super Cub, once the 99% can no longer afford cars.

  • DucatiRider

    Hmmmm. 42,200 units in 2011 to 44,102 units in 2012. I’m not sure how this could possibly be a growth of 21% ?? Fuzzy math going on at A&R?!
    ” the current Scrambler models produce almost no actual revenue for Ducati and its dealers.” A bit of a stretch to make of an assumption like that. Most Ducati dealers have deposits for 10 or more Scramblers already and many have over 20 deposits – and the bike is still a month or 2 away from hitting the dealerships. How is that almost no revenue? Yes, per unit revenue and profit potential is less than the average Ducati model, however the volume will be there to make up for that. I think the new Scrambler from a motorcycle stand point as well as from a business view will prove to be a big success.
    JB, please stop employing this dooms day sensationalism, often not based on facts, but just an ill-informed, unqualified journalist’s opinion, just to prop up readership.

  • Suzuki’s problem is much more simple…they aren’t producing any new bikes, and they aren’t keeping their staple machines current with the market.

  • Ah, even I’m not immune to the two sets of books Ducati is running. You’re right, I should have checked the numbers I posted here…the 21% is a press release number, and like many of the growth figures Ducati has quoted over the past decade, I have trouble finding where they got it.

    For instance, if you back the growth numbers all the way out to production numbers before the recession, you’d get something like 50,000 units.

    I’ve updated the article with better math, but the point is unaffected…if anything, it shows even less growth in bike sales under Domenicali.

    For the record, I’m not making an assumption on the Scrambler’s profitability. I know for a fact that the margins on the bike are very slim. Dealers are walking away with about $200 in their pocket on each sale, and that’s with the bike flying off the showroom floor.

  • DucatiRider

    Once again, you have your facts wrong! The profit margin (as a percentage) on the Scramblers is the same as on most other Ducati models. I know, I work at a Ducati dealership. Not sure where you get your “facts” but you need to find a different source!

    Ducati is doing just fine. Just, because their growth has slowed over the last 2-3 years does not mean there is trouble. The rapid growth Ducati had experienced the prior years, would not be sustainable in the long term anyway – no company could.

    The change in management is a normal corporate behavior. C. Silei had been with Ducati since the TPG take-over in 1995 or 1996. It is perfectly acceptable that after an almost 20 year run, he feels (and possibly Ducati & Audi) feel that he had nothing left to give and he may want to pursue other opportunities.

  • “Lifestyle selling will be key, as the current Scrambler models produce almost no actual revenue for Ducati and its dealers. Instead, Bologna hopes that the apparel and customization parts, which carry high-margins, will fill the revenue void, with the Scrambler acting as a sort of loss-leader.”

    There is nothing wrong with that statement. You’re arguing percentages, I’m arguing actual dollars…which one do you think a dealer is more concerned with come payday?

    A more fun argument, how much capital does a dealer have invest on a motorcycle to make that margin, versus say how much capital it takes on Scrambler sweatshirts to make the same amount?

  • SoWhat

    Useless article! Greedy neophiliacs!!

  • Craig

    and now I’m back in moderation?

  • Craig

    Don’t confuse manufacture with assembly. Ducati bikes are now being assembled in the market where it makes financial sense. The point of manufacture for the parts remains the same. Your bikes in the US will mostly be assembled in Brazil in the future.
    part of the process where Audi are making Ducati a leaner, more efficient company. Where it is finally put together should not matter. Although it really does seem to bother some Americans who think made in America means perfect and made in Europe means exotic. of course neither could be further from the truth.

  • sburns2421

    The dealership making the same percentage profit margin and Ducati S.p.A. making the same profit margin are two different things. I doubt we will ever really know if the Scrambler actually makes much money for Ducati on its own, or they plan on selling licensed apparel and accessories (at much higher margin usually) to make up the difference. There was huge investment out of Italy to make the Scrambler, it is a gamble for them for sure.

  • Bruce Steever

    Nailed it, as usual

  • Piglet2010

    “Made in America” is still climbing out of the hole of the 1970’s when the MBA’s took over and decided that spending money on product development and testing was a waste.

    My Honda Deauville is made in Catalonia (a region of Greater Spain), and is only exotic in the “what the h*ll is that?” manner.

    As for quality, even the Japanese seem to have dropped off from the heyday of the mid 1980’s to mid 1990’s.

  • Piglet2010

    And the TU250X is still not CARB certified?

  • That’s because you were a naughty boy with a foul mouth.

  • Piglet2010

    No 100% mark-up plus labor for installation accessories being sold with the bikes?

    $200 between wholesale and retail price is not even going to be break-even for a dealer. Is VAG/Audi/Lamborghini/Ducati really that desperate to build market share?

  • Craig

    Oh sorry fella. I didn’t even notice that. I type as I speak. That’s just me :)

  • paulus

    The problem is that shareholders expect year on year growth… you only get this from increased sales, increased prices or both.

  • paulus

    To be fair to Domenicali… the model development cycles are years in advance. Could the slow down on new model development have coincided with the old guard fattening the books to bail out on the biggest parachute possible?

  • Seems awfully premature to declare their sales flat before the Scrambler hits stores. Also, you’re confusing “revenue” and “profit” in the statement “the current Scrambler models produce almost no actual revenue for Ducati and its dealers.” In an article about revenue growth… pretty critical to get that one right.

  • Jack Meoph

    I really don’t care where my motorcycles are put together (OK, not china) or cars for that matter. Remember that line in Back To The Future: All the best stuff is made in Japan. Who knows where the components for anything is made anymore, and then where finale assembly is done. I know Triumph has a plant in Thailand and I’m sure most of the Japanese have them there. India is another place that punishes companies that try to bring fully assembled motorcycles into the country. H-D has a plant there . Bawal, Haryana iron brah.

  • H.L.

    This long article was very enlightening and re-affirms that the red bikes are and always will be overrated IMHO.

  • Lightspeed

    The car and motorcycle industries like to measure units but what the company reports to their shareholders or in this case to Audi is revenue. If they are able to trade up people to their higher price point bikes, they might be doing just fine. I am fairly new to motorcycling and the whole industry but I would argue that they have a very focused brand position. Tell your neighbor that you just bought a Ducati and they probably think you bought some screaming sport bike. Red of course. A focused brand proposition is much better than trying to stand for too many things – not possible – but it sometimes makes expanding into new market segments hard. Regarding lifestyle motorcycles, if it doesn’t dilute their brand, I am all for it. I won’t be buying one but if it helps them make profit to keep coming out with top product on the other end of the spectrum, it works for the hard core brand fans as well. Porsche makes a lot of money with the models that aren’t a 911 but as long as that allows them to keep putting out a better 911s, it’s good for everyone. If Ducati aren’t making money with the scrambler, then that is a real problem that needs to be addressed.

  • Piglet2010

    Not if the bikes are Honda Red.

  • crshnbrn

    I doubt very many outside the bean counters in Bologna – except for those in Wolfsburg and Ingolstadt – know what Ducati’s profit margin is for the Scrambler. Whether Ducati loses money, breaks even, or makes a modest margin on the Scrambler, they will not be the first manufacturer to do so with an entry-level product. Oftentimes premium models make up the difference with profit margins that are more “premium”.

  • XL2C

    Taking into account what others have said on the issues of profit vs revenue, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the Scrambler will benefit from a healthy/hefty markup in price from the manufacturer. Should sales meet projections, this will result in increased revenue for Ducati. Will it be significant? I don’t know, but my feeling is that Ducati thinks it will, otherwise what would be the point of the Scrambler? As to whether Ducati will remain profitable in the coming year, I don’t know of a reason why it wouldn’t. No doubt the factory is looking farther ahead than me on this.

    Recently Mercedes, BMW, and Audi have followed Porsche’s example. So it’s not a mystery why Ducati are now included with that bunch. All of them are taking after Apple Inc. If reports are to be believed, Ferrari will be one the latest premium/luxury automotive brands to follow in Apple’s footsteps. Personally, I have a hard time believing that will happen – but let’s wait and see if Fiat Chrysler will actually follow through on their plans for Ferrari. This certainly was one of the major reasons why former Ferrari CEO and Chairman Luca di Montezemolo left the company, as he believed that Ferrari and exclusivity were inseparable terms, indeed inseparable ideas. Ferrari was not meant to be seen everywhere and driven by everybody, according to him. Ferrari’s next five years will be very interesting.

    Anyway, the Scrambler will be Ducati’s first “iPod”. Or at least that’s seems to be what is expected of it. What will Ducati’s “iPad” take the shape of?

  • bobafett

    Are we all (insert word for not so intelligent here)…

    Ducati has been selling 8,000ish bikes since the recession years in the US. There is NO IMPROVEMENT IN SALES IN THE US! Dealers are all in bad position with too many bikes in their showrooms and all the dealers are giving huge discounts. Where are all the commercials and movies and stars riding and owning Ducati? Where is the excitement for the brand? CURRENT DECISION MAKERS AT DUCATI WILL GO DOWN IN HISTORY AS THE GROUP THAT KILLED THE DUCATI BRAND.

    Got to love the spin on this article:


  • AHA

    The ‘point’ of a zero profit Scrambler is to add more younger & female customers to give a bit more longevity to the customer base for repeat sales. A typical customer currently only has one or two more new bike purchases left in him! scrambler targets have at least 25 years of potential bike purchase years ahead of them.

  • That’s more my point, than a slant on Domenicali.

  • Ryan Donahue

    Add to that Japanese, cars and reliability.

  • Craig

    I don’t really know what that means. it’s not the age of Datsun any more ( who used to buy steel from me so I knew where it had been, old Russian ships if you are interested ). Japanese cars are up there now. have been for some time. Toyota are not one of the best selling brands in the world because of a fad. They simply are reliable and functional. Lexus is not a joke. Nissan make a better car in the dark with their hands tied than the UK or US industry ever made.

    You have to give credit where it is due.

  • Craig

    Dealers make their own decisions on what bikes to stock. it’s all sale or return.

  • Ryan Donahue

    I mean that just because a car is Japanese does not make it the most reliable car. Toyota was very much that – impeccably reliable. Anymore, not quite as much. Honda has fallen off more than people like to admit. Still great vehicles, depending.

  • Ayabe

    Chasing numbers isn’t what any motorcycle company should be solely focused on. I know, I know, I’m such a commie but growth is growth. US GDP growth isn’t much better.

    I just don’t see what’s wrong with ‘doing well’ and continuing to ‘do well’ while not pissing off your core customer base. It’s not like they’re Suzuki.

  • Gary

    Or could it simply be that their bikes are now flat-undesirable. I’ve been devoted to the brand since the 80’s and I just can’t get around their absurd styling anymore. Stop trying to create ‘a look’ and just bring back organic styling, for God’s sake! An honest motorcycle is all we ask for!