The Clash’s hit song “Should I Stay, Or Should I Go” might perhaps perfectly fit the business situation for Ducati, within its parent company, Volkswagen AG. The Italian motorcycle brand’s status in the German conglomerate has for the past few years been held on a tenuous string. Rumor about its divestiture, its selling to another company, are constantly dogging the iconic brand. Talking to Bloomberg TV after Volkswagen’s quarterly earnings report, VW CEO Herbert Diess explained that there are two paths forward for Ducati, and one of them includes selling Ducati to the highest bidder. “We have to look which is the best ownership for Ducati,” said Diess to Bloomberg.
The Volkswagen Group got a new CEO last week, and in less than seven days, that news has already sparked renewed rumors in the German automobile conglomerate divesting itself of Ducati Motor Holdings. For those who have been following Ducati’s saga, there was much talk last year of Volkswagen selling off a number of its other brands, all under the reasoning that the German company would need to raise capital to cover its mounting Dieselgate liabilities. The logic for that reasoning wasn’t sound, but the actions were certainly there, with Volkswagen tendering offers from a number of would-be suitors. There was a fly in the ointment though: Volkswagen’s labor unions, who control half of the VW Group’s board seats, and were vehemently opposed to any brand divestitures.
A bit of news that has gone under the radar: at the Frankfurt Auto Show, Volkswagen Group Chairman Matthias Muller dropped a bombshell, saying that the German company’s house of brands would all have a fully electrified lineup of vehicles by 2030 – at the latest. The initiative is called Roadmap E, and while Volkswagen is focusing mostly on it automotive holdings, the Germans have made obvious signs that they are including their Italian motorcycle company, Ducati, in this push to go electric. The most obvious indication comes from the company’s press statement. In it, the Volkswagen Group says that by 2030 “there will be at least one electrified version of each of the 300 or so Group models across all brands and markets.”
Reports out of Italy are confirming the news that Ducati will remain as a part of the Volkswagen Group, with the German company ceasing its pursuits of divesting the Italian motorcycle company from its ranks. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following Ducati’s business situation, as reports of the divestiture stalling out were circulating this time last month. The news seems to come with a bonus, with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali reportedly confirming the news internally (other reports quote Audi CEO Rupert Stadler doing the same as well). With that, Evercore Partners – the investment bank that was hired to solicit bids on Ducati Motor Holding – will stop pursuing brands that may want to see Ducati within their corporate holdings.
For the past few months, talk of Ducati’s divestiture from the Volkswagen Group has grabbed the attention from news outlets and Ducatisti alike, as the future of the Italian motorcycle company seemed uncertain. Internally, a power struggle was a play, with Audi keen to unload Ducati from its books, but lacking the support from upper management in the Volkswagen Group. Talks reportedly hit the skids once it was realized that the Volkswagen labor unions, which control half of the seats on the Volkswagen Group management board, weren’t onboard with divesting Ducati from the holding group. This is probably information that investors would have liked to know, before they spent the time and resources putting together purchase proposals for Audi’s consideration.
The hits keep on coming, in terms of Volkswagen’s plans (or non-plans) to sell its Italian motorcycle manufacturer, Ducati Motor Holding. According to the latest report from Reuters, the votes are lacking on supervisory board for Volkswagen, when it comes to selling Ducati and transmission-maker Renk. The lack of votes at the Volkswagen board isn’t a new problem, of course, with the German company’s labor unions accounting for half of the board seats, and reportedly very unenthusiastic about selling either brand. “The employee representatives on Volkswagen’s supervisory board will neither approve a sale of Ducati, nor one of Renk or MAN Diesel & Turbo,” a spokesman for VW group’s works council told Reuters this past weekend.
Reuters continues to dish on Ducati’s possible divestiture from the Volkswagen Group, with news that several bids have been placed on the Italian motorcycle brand. Reuters says that amongst the bidders are several key brands like, Polaris, Bajaj, and Royal Enfield’s owners Eicher Motors. Noticeably absent from the list of potential buyers however was the much talked-about Harley-Davidson, a name that the same Reuters reporters first offered as Ducati’s potential future owner. Now Reuters offers us another name as the likely front-runner, pointing to Italy’s Benetton family (as in, the United Colors of Benetton), which has reportedly submitted a bid of $1.2 billion, through its investment arm Edizione Holding.
After much buzz and fanfare regarding the future of Volkswagen, which in-turn called into question the future of Ducati, today we finally get a glimpse into how VW is going to soldier forth from the fallout of its “Dieselgate” scandal. Instead of announcing how the company was going to restructure itself, and review its current business holdings and ventures, as was reportedly widely in financial circles, instead today saw Volkswagen strongly staking its future in electric and autonomous cars. For Ducatisti, some good news does emerge, as Ducati certainly won’t be leaving its home in the Volkswagen Group. To drive that point further, a Ducati representative confirmed to A&R the words of Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler, who said emphatically that “Ducati is NOT FOR SALE”.
It seems to come in waves, every time the news cycle picks up Volkswagen’s plight in dealing with “Dieselgate” that talk then shifts to the German powerhouse unloading its smaller holdings, one of which being Ducati Motor Holding.
This latest go-around comes courtesy of Bloomberg, which has Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller saying that the automaker’s current portfolio of companies and its overall corporate plan will be re-evaluated over the coming weeks and months.
Tomorrow (Thursday), Volkswagen is slated to make public what this new business plan looks like, but sources say that VW will put all its assets under review, which includes Ducati.
Could this lead to Ducati being divested from Volkswagen’s holdings? The answer is of course murky, but we would be very surprised by the news.
With the Volkswagen Group’s Board of Directors meeting done, ahead of the company’s shareholder meeting which is also now complete, details of Audi’s acquisition of Ducati are starting to emerge. Paying €860 million ($1.1 billion) for the Italian motorcycle company, perhaps the biggest shocker to come from Audi’s acquisition is not the price, but the unconfirmed reports that Audi AG has bought 100% of the Ducati’s stock, meaning Borgo Panigale will now come under complete German control. This news means that Audi not only bought out the 70% ownership of Investindustrial, but also the 30% remainder that was held by private equity fund BS, the Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan, and other minority shareholders.
As expected from yesterday’s news, Audi’s Board of Directors has approved the German car company’s acquisition of Ducati Motor Holding. While the grumblings from Ducati owners have already emerged over the news breaking yesterday, in reality the move is a boon for Ducati, which will receive access to an almost limitless bank account, global business expertise, and advanced manufacturing techniques. Selling 42,000 motorcycles last year, Ducati has typically struggled to sell more than 30,000 units annually, a figure which is highly regarded as the Italian company’s break-even point. Historically selling under that amount, Ducati has racked up considerable debt from its operation, hence why nearly a quarter of the company’s purchase price is going to its outstanding financial liabilities.