Forced marriages? What does the topic of forced marriages have to do with motorcycling or adventure riding? Have they lost their minds over there at R2ADV? Not really, for the most part. But what brings this topic to mind is the recent purchase of motorcycle manufacturer Ducati by automobile manufacturer, Volkswagen, AG through their division Audi for a reported $1.13 billion USD. Many financial analysts have questioned the purchase as making no business sense, saying that there is no concrete business case for the purchase.
So why would Volkswagen/Audi (let’s just call them Audi for now on) a German automobile manufacturer known for precision engineering, spartan, efficient, and practical transportation want to purchase Ducati, an Italian, motorcycle company known for beautiful design (sometimes at the expense of functionality), passion and racing prowess? Can the two heritages be aligned and successfully combined into one big happy family in this apparent shotgun marriage?
Well the conjecture is that Audi wanted a trophy in its cabinet and its purchase of Ducati certainly represents a big shiny one. Huge racing heritage, cutting edge styling and maker of perhaps the most iconic motorcycle ever to be manufactured, the Ducati 916. In addition, prior to the purchase, Ducati had been recently leveraging its racing heritage and begun moving and promoting its brand image to and even wider audience.
With the introduction of the Streetfighter, Hypermotard, Multistrada (version 2) and most recently the Diavel, Ducati had moved from a racing company to a full market motorcycle company. But, and this is a big but, styling has always been a HUGE priority with Ducati even over cost, functionality and dare it be said, winning races.
But the question remains, how will Audi reconcile this styling priority with its engineering practicality philosophy? Can/will Audi listen to the Italians when they say but this design is beautiful, you shouldn’t change it? Will process and engineering controls overwhelm passion and styling at the new Ducati?
This brings me to question what the new Audi/Ducati might do to their adventure bike; the Multistrada. Ducati, so fixated on performance, installed the engine from their world class superbike, tuned for torque, and fit it between excellent suspension. Based on all this power, suspension adjustability and perhaps styling, Ducati decided to mount a solid cast 17 inch front wheel. This is not an optimal wheel for off roading, but it certainly looks swoopier and handles better on pavement and at high speeds. Ducati just could not force themselves to fit a 21 inch front spoked wheel which probably couldn’t handle the projected power of the Multistrada, nor does it look especially nice. Especially limiting is he fact that no tire manufacturer made a “knobby” tire in 17 inch rim sizes. In fact, Ducati had a tire made by Pirelli especially for the Multistrada that they hoped would fit the adventure mission.
It was not a hit with the off road community. In fact, it was the reason I sold my Multistrada. It just really didn’t want to be an off road bike. It was an awesome machine on the pavement, but anything more than wide gravel roads were a chore for the bike. I should have known that from the start with the 17 inch front wheel.
So what will the new Audi/Ducati do? Will the new company use the Audi approach and fit the engineer’s choice 21 inch front wheel or stay with the 17 inch wheel. Recently, Continental Tire came up with a true “knobby” for the 17 inch rim so now the Multistrada has a knobby tire available. They are “low profile” knobs, but they are knobs. Will that be enough, or will the new Audi/Ducati start anew with a new design and a fresh sheet of paper, throwing away the Italian legacy?
Interesting question eh? I did find that Wunderlich, a german motorcycle accessory and tuning company had been working with Continental and developed this machine based on the BMW S1000RR. (picture from Motorcycle USA)
It’s an interesting looking machine to say the least. Wunderlich has no relationship with Audi that I am aware of, but does this impart an idea of German thinking? Such a comparison is pure conjecture, but it’s interesting to think about.
Well the jury is not only out, it’s yet to be selected. But once selected, it will be interesting to see whether this forced marriage betweenVolkswagen/Audi and Ducati is given the thumbs up of survival or the thumbs down of business failure.