Ducati’s master plan: CEO talks electric, alternative fuels and the brand’s future direction

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Ducati is in rude health. Burgeoning sales, profit growth, new market expansion and a diverse range of high-quality, reliable, and aspirational motorcycles that would have been unimaginable from the firm 25 years ago, all conspire to make the Italian brand the apex predator within its various niches.

With sales expected to break through 60,000 units for 2022, how will the shift to alternative fuels and power sources affect a brand that is largely defined by the performance of its engines, beautiful design and visual engineering? Who better to reveal all than the CEO of Ducati, Claudio Domenicali, and head of design, Andrea Ferraresi? 

“We are investing a lot in different technologies in order to build the competence, to learn how to do it and to test the boundaries of what it is possible to achieve with the current state of the technology with batteries, inverters, motors, electronics and energy recovery,” says Domenicali. “We are developing different [alternative fuel] products, even if there is no plan for production models.

Ducati's MotoE bike

“It is expensive because we are testing things where we do not know if they will end up in production because of either future legislation, or because the result is not good enough in terms of a product.”

Alternative propulsion

“Our responsibility is to be as environmentally friendly and sustainable as possible. So synthetic fuel is something which we are very interested in. MotoGP will be 40% non-fossil fuel in 2024 and 100% in 2027 – and that will make us learn a lot in terms of what you can achieve with synthetic fuel. And we are very close to different fuel makers to help us to understand the scalability of that.

“We will all make mistakes, but hopefully they will not be too big to compromise the company. The risk of standing still is stronger than the risk of trying, if you stand still you will die for sure.”

Ducati Unica customised Streetfighter V4

So is electric the preferred way forward? “The legislation is still unclear in Europe,” says Domenicali. “There are different discussions in the UK, in California… but we are talking with the legislators to make them understand what is feasible technically. It is about choosing the proper timing and understanding that going full electric, which is the mainstream idea now, is much more difficult with a bike than with a car.

“The car can accept the behaviour without too many problems. With a bike, if it is too heavy the pleasure of riding disappears; safety is complex with a heavy motorcycle; centre of gravity with a car, you can put the battery on the floor of the car, but with a motorcycle you cannot do this. My personal opinion is that bikes should move to electric, but with a difference in timing compared to cars, and in the meantime, [synthetic] e-fuel would be a fantastic solution.

“For the cheapest motorcycles, commuters and city orientated bikes, in my opinion electric would definitely be the way to go; for the more leisure type motorcycle, high performance, emotional, it’s a fight between electric, hydrogen and e-fuel depending on the progression rate of batteries. So, with the battery that we know now and for the next ten years, it’s a no-go. You cannot make anything comparable to a current Panigale, so e-fuel is the only way to go.

A side view of the 2023 Ducati Panigale V4S

“We will learn a lot with MotoE, but we already know which battery we will use next year, and which battery we will use three years from now – and it’s far from comparable to a Panigale. But technology will evolve. We have a solid-state battery coming which will give an increase in energy density of 30 to 40% – so good, but still not enough.

“There are other technologies still in the lab. Then it’s a matter scalability and cost of this sort of battery with even higher energy density. A lot has to be done with the capability of the energy recharging network, too.

“We will also expand into other sectors. With ‘Style, Sophistication and Performance’ [Ducati’s brand ethos] you can do everything, provided you stay in the upper part of the market. It cannot be entry-level. We will not do entry-level of any type, and will move away from the entry level that we had in the past.

“The brand will progressively move upwards, so more potential for customisation and personalisation direct from the factory [Ducati already has a factory customisation department, dubbed Unica] and many more customised options. We are focused on having a relationship with the customer which is unique, offering them experiences, and inventing something new every year.”

The shape of things to come

Andrea Ferraresi - Ducati design director

The visual language of Ducati is unmistakable – but as legislation, environmental pressures and the adoption of alternative fuels and power sources inevitably converge – how will this impact on the style of future bikes?

“It will be a big challenge, because everything on a motorcycle is so integrated,” says Ferraresi. “It’s not just a matter of bodywork that covers what is made by the engineers. It’s a matter of conceiving everything together from the beginning.

“On a Ducati, the engine is part of the design and the exhaust is so distinctive – so we will lose at least two key features to distinguish ourselves from the competitors. But there are some big advantages because, for example, you don’t have to struggle with the minimum volume of the exhaust.

Designing the Ducati Hypermotard

“The tank will stay where it is now, not as a tank but as an ergonomic device. You need this surface to be able to ride the bike, but in the future it could have adjustable ergonomic surfaces. We could realise a motorcycle that is fully and freely adjustable for the rider. It will be a challenge, but it will also allow us to conceive new concepts.”

“The MotoE bike is the first racing prototype we have designed in our [Centro Stile] studio. We do not design the MotoGP bike, it is purely functional and a prototype, but [with the MotoE bike] we have gained a lot of experience in how to interact with the aerodynamics and the riding position, which in MotoE is very important to compensate for the weight distribution of the battery.

“Aerodynamics has a big influence on all our motorcycles. With a Multistrada it is a matter of comfort, both acoustic and thermal, because we are now using aerodynamics for all the internal channels to cool the rider. So aerodynamics has a different influence depending on the bike.

Ducati Multistrada V4S

“We also consider the opinion of our customers and employees. We show them sketches, clay models, the final model… This doesn’t mean we have to do what they say, but it is very important for intercepting mistakes.

“If on a range of one to ten, most people say that the feeling from the front-end is a five, then for sure we know that we have a problem and have to change it.

“This panel is very important for the future of Ducati design.”

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