First of all, I must say that all of this is guesswork based on the old “one-plus-one-makes-two” process of analyzing a sequence of events. Thus, I may be dead wrong, but I thought it worth sharing, anyway. At the 2010 World Ducati Weekend, Ducati and Mercedes held a combined event: the unveiling of a “naked” version of the SLK roadster. Not a big thing. Indeed, I’ve personally never rated the SLK as a real sports car, and that stripped edition was just a cheaper execution conceived to more rapidly dispose of remaining units of a model that was already in its run-off phase.
But that event was the cornerstone of an operation that almost led Mercedes-Benz to buy Ducati. By the end of 2010, AMG, the armed branch or Mercedes-Benz, became technical sponsor of the Ducati MotoGP team, in that it supplied team members with a fleet of pumped-up M-Bs—fast and great style. Then, at the 2011 IAA auto show in Frankfurt, Mercedes-AMG unveiled the Ducati Diavel AMG Special Edition. Bang! If it weren’t for Audi-VW Group chairman Dr. Ferdinand Piëch wanting Ducati for himself as a long-coveted birthday present, today’s Ducatis would be wearing a three-pointed-star crest.
Before I proceed further, I must underline that Mercedes and BMW have had a century-or-so-long feud about which one of the two makes Germany’s best luxury-performance cars. Since 1923, BMW has had a brilliant motorcycle branch and, apparently, that fact did not trigger any jealousy at Mercedes until 2010. Last year, the situation took a dramatic dive when Audi snatched Ducati out of Mercedes’ hands. Under Piëch’s leadership, Audi has grown to become the third competitor to the title of best German luxury-performance auto manufacturer.
At the end of July, another one of those funny-smelling Mercedes events took place at the luxurious branch in Milan: the local unveiling of the very hot CLA 45 AMG, the compact supercar based on the new A-Class and powered by a 360-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter Four developed by AMG. For “some reason,” Mercedes wanted the latest, equally hot MV Agusta F3 800 side by side with its CLA 45 to underline its young, relatively accessible, high-performance-in-a-compact-size spirit. Mercedes also released the accompanying picture with the two hot rods screaming around a corner.
While I agree with the choice of motorcycles, I remain on lookout for the next move between these two manufacturers. MV Agusta is the last of the greatest legends in motorcycling. Giovanni Castiglioni has competently steered the company out of troubled waters, but MV needs a massive investment to fully exploit its renewed potential. And Mercedes-Benz has plenty of money to invest in anything it wants, even a motorcycle brand to challenge BMW and, now, Audi.