Ducati 'looking carefully at synthetic fuel' for future models ahead of electrification
In an ordinary year a near 10% drop in sales would have the board of a major motorcycle manufacturer on the hunt for the CEO’s head.
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But 2020 was no ordinary year and Ducati are no ordinary manufacturer. Even with an early and incredibly restrictive lockdown in Italy, Ducati managed to stay in profit and actually grew their sales in certain countries around the world. The key, according to Ducati’s VP of Sales, is care and passion.
"It’s been a complex and difficult year," says Francesco Milicia. "At first we thought maybe the pandemic would only affect some countries but by March  we could see how serious it was. In Italy we had the highest death rate in that first wave and it was a very serious situation, especially in the north [where Ducati and 90% of their supply chain are based]."
The speed with which the pandemic took hold surprised Ducati and caused real headaches for their factory just as they were gearing up for the spring rush.
"We had a meeting on Friday afternoon telling us the factory had to be shut down by Monday morning, with all shipments blocked just as we were getting ready to distribute the Streetfighter," adds Milicia.
"Our first estimate was that we would lose 30% of our sales for the year but we’ve been impressed by the recovery. The Streetfighter is selling more in the second year than it did in the first and the Fasthouse Scrambler will be sold out in a matter of days."
Interestingly for Ducati, who’s biggest sales market remains their home nation of Italy, their biggest competition comes not from other high-performance European manufacturers but from the emerging budget brands.
"In Italy the market has changed a little bit as we have a lot of competition on price but we don’t want to go into competition with cheap manufacturers," says Milicia. "We have to protect our brand. We have a brand that’s been alive almost 100 years and we have to respect that.
"But attracting younger customers is important and, as for a product for young customers, this is something we are working on. Even with smaller displacements for young people however, we can still build in the style, sophistication and performance of a Ducati."
With the world moving towards zero-emissions, could what the company needs to attract young people be electric bikes? Milicia thinks not – at least not yet...
"We are thinking and working on electric," adds Milicia. "We are part of a group that’s going quickly towards electrification and it’s a good opportunity for Ducati.
"Will we produce an electric Ducati soon? No. We think that for the kind of machine we produce now, an electric motorcycle cannot guarantee the pleasure, the range, the weight etc that Ducati riders expect.
"We are also looking carefully at other solutions for zero or minimal emissions, such as synthetic fuel. Other brands in our group such as Porsche are looking at it and it’s something we are looking at in the medium term."
Ducati have been working hard to shed the image of unreliability that was gained decades ago and is hard to shift. A big part of that has been communication and despite the recent setback with the Multistrada, Milicia is sure they’re on the right path.
"I think one of the secrets of Ducati is that when we have a new product, we communicate with our dealers and our staff. There’s a saying that ‘nobody knows how better to improve a machine, than the worker who operates it’ and it’s the same with bikes. It’s the dealer who’s in front of the customer and they hear day to day what is working but also what’s not working.
"We are always trying to build a better product for our customers. The one thing we’ve worked on more than anything else for the last five years is improving the quality and reliability of the products. We’ve worked a lot in the last year, we’ve had to replace lots of suppliers who didn’t meet our quality.
"Thanks to the rigorous quality processes we immediately had evidence of a potential issue with the valve guides on the Multistrada V4 and decided, without delay, to give priority to service to our customers.
"In fact, we have activated a preventive recall campaign on the involved bikes [that are only a percentage of the total produced and sold] by making courtesy motorcycles available to the Ducatisti involved for the period necessary for the intervention, other important benefits and two years of free ordinary maintenance on their bikes."