In October of 2011, a very smart manager of a Bologna-based company told me he had a feeling that Ducati might be up for sale. How did he get that perceptive feeling? While watching Ducati “polishing all its silverware,” he just made “2 and 2 equal 4.”
For the sale of the company, the moment was favorable like never before. Ducati had just won the World Superbike title against all odds, given the age of the 1198, and the Diavel was enjoying incredible success. Ducati also pumped up deliveries to dealers so the sales numbers would rocket past the 40,000 mark by the end of the year. For most manufacturers, 40,000 units is not a magic number, but it is for Ducati. When you then add in that payment terms to suppliers were stretched a bit, the numbers at the end of 2011 could not have looked any rosier.
At that stage, there was more than one potential buyer around; and in case none would materialize with a check of the right size, Andrea Bonomi’s Investindustrial, the private capital group that owned Ducati, was ready to take the company public. In that arena, the year-end numbers would count a lot more than they might in a direct negotiation.
But in late April, after much gossip and speculation, the purchase of the company by Audi was announced, and those who have been at Ducati long enough to know how things have been going for the last five decades have positive feelings about it. As one of them told me, “I am certain that the Audi auditors looked accurately into our accounts, and they know exactly where we stand financially; they were not distracted by the glittering of our polished silverware. Ducati will be much better off with Audi than it would have been if acquired by some Chinese or Indian or Arab private capital group.”
A few days before the official announcement, I had the opportunity to talk with a young executive from Audi’s automotive division. Though hardly involved in the Ducati negotiations, he had much enthusiasm for the acquisition but also great realism and a deep knowledge of the “Bolognese attitude”—a mix of dedication, pride, passion and self-confidence, but also arrogance and dogmatism. So, based on what Audi likely learned from their 1998 purchase of Lamborghini, which is only 20 miles from Ducati, it would seem that they know what to expect.
If Ducati had gone public, Bonomi and CEO Gabriele Del Torchio planned to move to new premises. Bonomi would sell the huge estate to Coop, a network of supermarket properties of the Italian Communist Party, which is quite strong in Bologna. The new Ducati would be smaller and, possibly, more efficient and productive. But now, everything is up in the air.
Before the sale, Claudio Domenicali, Ducati’s General Manager, told me that the company had defined an agenda crowded with new models. Audi investments and expertise would surely iron out lots of the problems Ducati would encounter in reaching that goal.
All of this should make the next few years an interesting period in the life of one of the world’s most beloved motorcycle brands.