Ducati Sets Sales Record for 2014 – 45,100 Bikes Sold

Ducati Motor Holding is reporting another record sales year, and that the Italian motorcycle manufacturer sold 45,100 bikes in 2014. This marks the fifth year in a row that Ducati has shown sales growth, and it’s the third year in a row that the sales figures have been an all-time record for the Italian brand. Sales for 2014 were up 2% over 2013, with the USA again leading as Ducati’s most important market (8,804 units sold in the USA). Unsurprisingly, the Asian market is growing quickly for Ducati as well, up 11% in 2014. Ducati attributes its sales growth in-part to its new water cooler Monster line, where the Ducati Monster 1200 and Ducati Monster 821 helped raise Monster sales by 31%, with 16,409 new bikes sold in 2014.

Newspeak: The Advent of the “Adventure-Sport”

In the past decade the ADV segment has been a confusing amalgamation of differing interests, and over that time-period, two distinct groups have boiled to the surface. First there are the “Long Way Round” hopefuls, who invariably own a BMW R1200GS/A, and seem to be on some sort of perpetual preparation for an African safari. More recently, a second group has appeared: those riders who look to these big ADV bikes as more versatile Sport-Touring machines. All these riders, and their bikes, have been wedged into a single “Adventure” category, and it has created a bit of confusion for the segment. So, I want to introduce the concept of the “Adventure-Sport” and how it differentiates from the previous “Adventure-Touring” category.

MotoGP: Ducati’s Desmosedici GP15 Officially Delayed

As had been widely expected, Ducati will not have the GP15 ready for the first test at Sepang, in early February. In an interview with the MotoGP.com website, due to be shown on 19th January, Ducati Corse boss confirmed that work was still underway on the all-new bike; and that instead, Ducati will be bringing an uprated version of last year’s bike, dubbed the GP14.3, to test aspects of the new design not requiring the new engine. The delays have been trailed by both Dall’Igna and Paolo Ciabatti, speaking to the media at the Valencia test and at the Superprestigio dirt track event in December. The GP15 is a completely new bike, designed from the ground up, with a completely redesigned engine.

1972 Honda CB500, 3D Printed to Life Size

We’ve talked a bit before about the virtues of 3D printing, and how this increasingly affordable technology could change the consumer landscape as far as how we buy basic parts in the motorcycle industry. For as practical as how 3D printing, or rapid prototyping, can be, it can also be beautiful and used for art. This story is sort of a merger of those two ideas. Jonathan Brand has hoped to buy a 1972 Honda CB500 motorcycle, but the birth of his son changed that plan. Where there is a will though, there is a way, and Brand came up with the next best thing — he built a life-size model of a CB500 with his 3D printer.

Mercedes CEO: No Further Acquisition of MV Agusta

Italians are rejoicing over the news that Mercedes-Benz CEO Dieter Zetsche has made it clear that the German car manufacturer is not interested in acquiring more of MV Agusta’s private stock. Loyal readers will remember that Mercedes-AMG purchased 25% of MV Agusta last October, for a rumored €30 million — echoing the move Audi made in Ducati. Talking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit though, Zetsche said “however, to avoid what happened with Ducati we point out that we have no intention to take over the business or produce motorcycles. MV Agusta can do it better than us.”

Triumph Has Its Best Sales Year Since Its Rebirth

Good news for Triumph Motorcycles fans, as the British motorcycle marque is reporting a banner year for 2014 — with 54,432 units sold worldwide. That figure is up 4% over 2013’s sales figure of 52,089 units, which was the first time that Triumph broke the 50,000 unit mark since the company’s rebirth in 1984. Helping Triumph reach this new high-water mark was the company’s home market, where Triumph accounted for one-in-five motorcycles sold in the UK (over 500cc). Overall, Triumph saw 8% growth in the UK, as modest growth considering the British market was up roughly 10% last year. The news is not all good, however. Triumph previously reported that financial figures for the first-half of 2014 were down, with revenue down £364 million from £369 million, and net income at a loss of £8 million.

Husqvarna 401 Concepts Will Be 2017 Production Models

One of the more intriguing things to come out of the 2014 EICMA motorcycle show in Milan were Husqvarna’s two “401” concepts, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen. The café-styled bikes are based off the KTM 390 Duke platform, though you wouldn’t know it from looking at them. Husqvarna said at EICMA that if there was sufficient interest, the Vitpilen and Svartpilen could go into production. With an overwhelming critical response from the press and fans, it should come no surprise then that our friends at Bike.se are reporting that Husqvarna intends to make the small-displacement machines a part of its 2017 model lineup.

Ducati Desmosedici Cucciolo Concept by Alex Garoli

Imagine if you will that the first Ducati, the Ducati Cucciolo, and the most modern Ducati, the Ducati Desmosedici, had a child — what would it look like? That far-fetched question nagged Mexican designer Alex Garoli, so he decided to build a concept of the machine. At the core of the Ducati Desmosedici Cucciolo is the V4 powerplant of Italy’s MotoGP race bike, and around it Garoli has imagined a modern steel trellis frame that mimics the bicycle frame look of the post-WWII motorized bicycles that pulled Italy out of deep recession. Of course the most interesting thing about Garoli’s concept is the fact that it’s a ~12:1 scale model. The work is pretty exquisite, even if you don’t agree with the concept’s ethos.

Is Suzuki Reviving the Katana and Gamma Names?

Signs of life are starting to trickle out of Hamamatsu, as Suzuki finally seems to be working on new models for our riding pleasure. First, it was the news that the turbocharged Suzuki Recursion concept is likely to go into production, and now it’s that the Japanese OEM is reviving iconic names from its past: Katana and Gamma. Suzuki has re-registered the Katana name & logo with both the European and American trademark offices, while the Gamma logo has been re-registered in the EU. What this means precisely in terms of future models is up for debate. As for the name Katana, the evidence might already be in front of us with the Recursion concept. The Suzuki Katana line started life as a performance-oriented machine, and slowly saw its name watered down into the sport-touring segment.

MV Agusta Gets €15 Million Loan for New Business Plan

Good turns for MV Agusta, as the Italian motorcycle manufacturer has secured a €15 million loan from SACE and Banca Popolare di Milano (BPM). The loan, which was issued by BPM and guaranteed by SACE, will go towards MV Agusta’s foreign growth plans, namely the company’s strengthening of its US business, and its push into Brazil and Southeast Asia. The more business-speak version of that statement is that MV Agusta will use the €15 million to implement the company’s 2014-2018 business plan, which has the company expanding its product range and penetrating into “high-potential” markets.

The Four Killer Apps of the Electric Motorcycle

07/03/2012 @ 1:32 pm, by Jensen Beeler26 COMMENTS

Electric motorcycles: love them or hate them, our two-wheeled future is here my riding brethren. I can hear the collective groan of petrol-heads as this subject is broached though. Yes, it is hard to get excited about electric motorcycles in their current state, and why should you be excited about them? I may not blindly gush about electrics as much as the Kool-aid drinking EV crowd does, but I’m decisively on the pro-electric side of the debate. Yet, even I have a hard time looking at what is available on the market, and imagining a scenario where my hard-earned blogging dollars would grab an electric motorcycle over its internal combustion counterpart.

Part of the reason is that there is no real appealing reason to go electric at this point in time. Oh sure, you can do your part to save the environment, though the net-effect with our coal-dependent energy infrastructure will still play a tremendous detriment on the reality of one-less petrol-burning motorcycle on the road. That being said, electricity out of a home outlet is super-cheap, out of someone else’s outlet it is even cheaper, and the “where our power comes from” debate really should be looked at as separate from the green-vehicle debate. Of course, the break-even analysis on the total cost of owning a 250cc motorcycle compared to even the most robust electric motorcycle is still fairly dubious — and let’s be honest, grouping the current offering of electric motorcycles in with a 250cc commuter bike is probably a disservice to the Honda CBR250R and Kawasaki Ninja 250R’s of the world.

So with all the Negative Nancy about electrics, why am I still talking about them? Because there is tremendous potential with a fully digital powertrain, that’s why. Forget the CD vs. tape cassette analogy, this is a Pandora vs. LP shift in technology — but we just don’t have a killer app yet for electric motorcycles. Defined as “the concept that a singular feature is so prolific that its proves the core value of a larger technological system, often driving consumers to make a purchasing decision on the product or system that highlights the feature,” it is clear that electric motorcycles have yet to define the advantage they represent to motorcyclists — not because there is no value in the system, but because electric motorcycle manufacturers have failed to provide the killer app to their core technology.

As it stands now, electric motorcycles are basically conventional motorcycles with batteries and motors that replace fuel tanks and engines. It is the same basic offering that we have had since the turn of the century, except with three times the cost, forty times the refuel time, and a quarter of the range. While the big hold-up for electrics, battery technology, is still advancing rapidly, at the end of the day consumers are still be making apples-to-apples comparisons between internal combustion and electric motorcycles because only the most basic elements of this new technology is being offered by electric OEMs (i.e. getting you from Point A to Point B).

There is a tremendous amount at stake for electric motorcycle OEMs beyond just the basics of the market status quo, as the first electric motorcycle OEM that figures out how to deliver a killer app to the electric motorcycle space, is going to be the first electric motorcycle company to find real traction with the born-on-gasoline motorcycle riding masses. Progressing from immediate needs to long-term goals, I have compiled a roadmap of four killer apps that the electric motorcycle space needs to bring to market. Each killer app builds off the next, and the whole exercise concludes on what I believe is the most important idea in motorcycling. Now, who is going to be the first to make these ideas a reality?

Lies, Damned Lies, & The MIC’s Electric Range Estimates

06/13/2012 @ 5:58 am, by Jensen Beeler37 COMMENTS

Rewind a few years ago in the electric segment of the motorcycle industry, and you found a landscape where manufacturers published wildly inaccurate numbers relating to speed, range, and power. The situation of over-promising and under-delivering was so bad, virtually any figure quoted, whether it was made with the best or worst intentions, was immediately called into question. The issue of course stemmed from the fact that OEMs were unable to deliver motorcycles with specifications that were remotely acceptable to a savvy motorcycle market. 20 mile ranges? 15hp available continuously? 60 mph top speeds if you’re downhill, tucked in, have a tailwind, and add five to the speedo’s reading? Yup, those were the good old days.

As the industry matured, so did our expectations, and it looked like some sanity was going to come to fruition as the MIC began pooling interest on developing a standard to rate the various performance specifications of electric motorcycles. An industry group setup to look after the best interests of the OEMs and other business in the motorcycle industry, you only need to follow the cash to see whose best interests are really being served by this group.

So, it should not surprise us then that the latest “standard” from the MIC, which establishes criterion on how the highway mileage of an electric motorcycle should be rated, is doing a downright scandelous disservice to consumers and the industry itself, as the proposed standard massively overrates the highway range of electric motorcycles.

No Sub-800cc Motorcycle for India? Why Harley-Davidson Doesn’t Understand Emerging Markets

06/02/2012 @ 7:38 am, by Jensen Beeler24 COMMENTS

Regular readers of Asphalt & Rubber will have noticed by now that I like to talk about what is going on with motorcycling in emerging markets like India, Southeast Asia, Brazil, etc. The fact of the matter is that it is these markets, not North America or Europe, that are going to serve as the future for the motorcycle industry, and the sooner us westerners get used to that idea, the better. For an industry built around and defined by the rebellious archetypes portrayed by James Dean, Marlon Brando, and Steve McQueen, the reality is that motorcyclists as a whole are conservative by nature, and resistant to change…especially in the United States.

We like our bikes loud, our helmets off, and bikes built by real blue-collar ‘mericans. Our skin prickles at the thought of manufacturing outside the borders of our blessed Union, and every time a company opens a factory in India, Southeast Asia, or South America, we talk about the outsourcing of American labor, the downfall of our economy, or something equally hyperbolic.

This has been the same broken record that has been played for the better part of the past 100 years, and has re-manifests itself each decade to address the next perceived threat to our domestic economy. While there is much to say about the shifting of America’s GDP from manufacturing to service industries, the real germane subject for discussion here centers around the idea that all too often Chicken Little rears his head when an American company opens a factory outside of the United States.

Such is the case with Harley-Davidson, which setup manufacturing in India back in 2011. Contrary to belief that the sky was falling, the Bar & Shield brand was not getting ready to massively outsource its production abroad (though it was heavily re-negotiating with its unionized labor force), but instead very deliberately and wisely chose to bypass India’s extraordinarily high tariffs by building and assembling its Indian market bikes locally. This move allowed Harley-Davidson to competitively and reasonably price its motorcycle in the Indian market, which in turn helped the brand expand its presence in one of the largest motorcycle markets in the world.

While this plan so far has proved to be fruitful for Harley-Davidson, the recent news that Harley Davidson India CEO Anoop Prakash has confirmed that H-D will not be making a sub-800cc bike specifically for the Indian market shows a misstep for Harley-Davidson with its international strategy, especially as it pertains to the major growth markets for motorcycling.

An Addendum to Valentino Rossi’s Options for the Future

04/30/2012 @ 4:12 pm, by Jensen Beeler42 COMMENTS

If you haven’t already read David Emmett’s excellent analysis of Valentino Rossi’s options in MotoGP, you owe it to your MotoGP-loving self to sit down and digest David’s thorough game theory walk-through on the nine-time World Champion’s prospects in the premier class.

David’s analysis is spot-on, and approaches the impending 2012 mega silly season from a logical point-of-view (for those who aren’t keeping track, virtually every contract in MotoGP is up for renewal this year). I don’t disagree with any point David has penned, but I wanted to add one line-item to his analysis: some discussion about Rossi’s post-motorcycle racing career, and how it influences The Doctor’s choices this coming contract renewal period.

Never say never, but few are expecting Valentino Rossi to hang up his spurs at the end of the 2012 MotoGP Championship. Going out on a career low-point is certainly not the Italian’s style, especially as it casts a particularly dark shadow on a career that has enjoyed the bright-light superlative of “Greatest of All Time” from some of motorcycling’s most knowledgeable sources.

Hoping to cast that phrase with an underlined typeface, and not with an interrogatory question mark, there is sufficient evidence to believe that Rossi will want to end his career in a way that will leave no doubt about the nine-time World Champion’s abilities. The question of course is how those final seasons will play out, and who they will be with.

Will 2012 Finally Be Husqvarna’s Year?

03/08/2012 @ 2:08 pm, by Jensen Beeler15 COMMENTS

For the past day I have been plunking away at a spreadsheet, adding in values found in several years’ worth of press releases. You see, while most motorcycle manufacturers go out of their way to hide sales information in their media communications, they still leave enough clues that allow one to decipher these pieces of information in their entirety. A monthly figure here, a quarterly result there, a percent gain over last year mentioned, and you’ve got your self five or more months of sales data extrapolated.

That being said, there is no need to go through this much work to know that Husqvarna has been having a rough couple of years. Even by just taking a straw poll from any of the BMW Group’s many glowing sales reports, you’ll find a three to four sentence paragraph outlining the continued disappointment that the Italian-based Swedish brand has brought the German company. Often not even cracking four-digit monthly sales figures, Husqvarna has been on a sales decline that has spawned BMW Motorrad’s decision to push the once dirt-only brand into the street bike scene.

In its most recent media communication, the BMW Group has praised Husqvarna’s sales success over the past two months. With the subsidiary posting a 50% gain in January, and a 2% gain in February, Husqvarna has thus far this year posted a 15% gain over the first two months of 2011. All is well for Zie Germans, no? You know the setup, continue reading for the take-down.

This Isn’t a Motorcycle Commercial, But It Should Be

02/08/2012 @ 11:41 am, by Jensen Beeler52 COMMENTS

For the uninitiated readers of Asphalt & Rubber, I have an axe to grind with the way OEMs market our sport, lifestyle, and culture. For an industry that centers so heavily around the idea of personal freedoms and individuality, the way motorcycle brands engage motorcyclists is appalling.

Often creating cheap one-dimensional campaigns that feed into the most base stereotypes available, it is rare to find any sort of marketing campaign that touches on the nerves of why we ride motorcycles. We’ve seen the car. We know it exists. And yet, we choose to ride motorcycles. Think about it.

If what is after the jump costs 10x what a normal cheap YouTube flick from (insert OEM here), then I’ll take 10x less marketing material from any motorcycle manufacturer if what I do end up seeing looks this good, and actually has this much substance. Like the Escapism short we debuted by friend Barry Munsterteiger, this film Joy Ride by Sandro has the same level of quality and storytelling we need to publish in the industry.

For bonus points, it shows that motorcyclists are real people with depth and character; and for ultra-bonus points, the star of the film is some guy named Mark Miller.The only thing that I hate about this video? It was made to promote a new digital SLR camera, not a motorcycle. Wake up people.

Why Today is the Most Important Day for Ducati…Ever

01/24/2012 @ 4:13 pm, by Jensen Beeler33 COMMENTS

The first Ducati 1199 Panigale rolled off the assembly line at Ducati’s Borgo Panigale factory today, officially starting production of the Italian company’s flagship model. While maybe the the production of the first Panigale is not the most newsworthy of subjects, make no mistake at how important this motorcycle is for both Ducati and sport bikes in general going into the future. Featuring a new step in production motorcycle chassis design, we’ve also already talked at length about the number of firsts that the 1199 Panigale is bringing to the production motorcycle market.

With a hybrid chain/gear-driven camshaft, titanium valves, a wet slipper clutch, a ride-by-wire throttle, rider-selectable “riding mode” system, and 15,000 mile major service intervals, the Superquadro v-twin motor alone is a major step for Ducati with its Superbike engine design. And, if you add in the first full-LED headlight on a produciton motorcycle, the first electronically-adjustable suspension on a sport bike, the first motorcycle engine braking control system, as well as the first GPS-assisted data acquisition system for a production motorcycle, the total package of the 1199 redefines the word “superbike” and takes the next logical technological step forward in this market segment.

However features aside, what will truly be the most important aspect of the Ducati 1199 Panigale is whether or not the flagship model can live up to the hype that has been generated around the machine. While most of the attention to-date regarding the Panigale has centered on whether Ducati’s monocoque chassis design can work on the production motorcycle, after it has failed so miserably in MotoGP, the real issue for the Italian brand has nothing at all to do with the 1199’s race track prowess.

Lawless Jakarta & Some Thoughts About Southeast Asia

01/10/2012 @ 12:51 pm, by Jensen Beeler41 COMMENTS

Here’s a random factoid delivered in the form of a question for you: when looking at the metrics for the A&R website, A&R Twitter account, and A&R Facebook page, which city do you think is responsible for the most readers? We are an American-based website after all, so your top picks might be New York, Los Angeles, or maybe San Francisco, right? Nope. Half our traffic does come from abroad though, so maybe London? Paris? Rome? Barcelona? Wrong again dear readers, because when it comes to a single city consuming the moto-goodness that we publish on a daily basis, none of them have anything on Jakarta, Indonesia (yes, the title of article gave that one away, huh?).

I recently talked about this phenomenon with another online motojournalist, who was experiencing the same trend, and he concluded that it must be employees using proxy servers so they can read blog while at work. I disagreed however, and when looking at where the industry as a whole is currently headed, I think there is something much more basic at play here. Developing countries are the future of motorcycling, and right now Southeast Asia is a hot bed of growth for motorcycle sales. With a less developed infrastructure, and still a need to get from Point A to Point B, motorcycles provide a cheap and effective means of transportation in countries like Indonesia, and for many, motorcycles have become a way of life.

The Chrysanthemum and the Sword

12/22/2011 @ 9:11 pm, by Jensen Beeler105 COMMENTS

Talking to a colleague the other day, we came to a frank discussion about how the European motorcycle brands weathered the recession better when compared to their Japanese counterparts. While there are many factors at play in this statement, there is at least a component of truth to the idea that strong brand integration helped spur the Europeans into setting record months, quarters, and years during a global economic downturn, while companies like Honda, Kawasaki, Suzuki, and Yamaha saw their businesses virtually collapse.

It is not that the Japanese manufacturers don’t have strong brands, it is just that their brands stand for something fundamentally different from those being forged by the Europeans. While companies like Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are building entire communities and lifestyles around their motorcycles (hat tip to Harley-Davidson for showing them how), the Japanese continue to hang their hats on the attributes of their products. Well-engineered, bulletproof, and relatively cheap, Japanese motorcycles tick all the right boxes when one is objectively measuring a motorcycle, but they are sufficiently lacking when it comes to creating lasting ties to their owners.

Some Closing Thoughts About Marco Simoncelli

10/30/2011 @ 11:48 pm, by Jensen Beeler9 COMMENTS

It has taken me a week to collect my thoughts and process the passing of Marco Simoncelli, the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider that lost his life during the MotoGP race in Malaysia. I’m not one of those journalists that can belt out some poignant thoughts on an event immediately after it happens, nor did I personally know Simoncelli well enough to offer a comprehensive anecdote on the man’s short but distinguished life. Having only met and talked to Marco briefly a few times, I cannot shed some deeper insight regarding who he was as a man, stripped away of all the pomp, prestige, and PR spin of the premier class.

I’ve heard the MotoGP paddock described as a family or village, so as one of its most recent members, this tragedy both cuts me deeply, but yet also seems like a distant and surreal event. Perhaps it will affect me more as I travel to Valencia this week, or perhaps I will continue to feel as if I am on the outside looking in at cataclysm of grief that has befallen friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Time will tell in that regard, and I’ll leave it to those masters of the pen who are better suited to the task to account for the young Italian’s life and racing career.

Instead my closing thoughts about Marco Simoncelli are a mixed commentary of life, tragedy, and where we go from here.