Claudio Domenicali, Ducati’s CEO, Talks To Us About All Things Motorcycle
For more than a quarter of a century, Ducati’s CEO, Claudio Domenicali, has had a love affair with motorcycles. During his recent visit to the West Coast, the progressive Domenicali was king enough to sit down and give us his thoughts on Ducati’s bright future as well as his general views on the motorcycle industry, the impact of the American consumer, and Ducati’s place in this market.
You recently stated that the future for Ducati is electric. How committed are you to that strategy?
Yes, I think that the future of every brand is electric, not just ours. It is a matter of timing, and so there are different interpretations. Some manufacturers think that it will be happening very quickly, and some others believe that it is necessary to think a bit more about it. So we are in the process of working on developments and studies, but we’re not sure how to position ourselves yet. The battery is the key, and it’s development is what we care about for sports motorcycles. The weight is crucial, and so is the range. So it’s not an easy technical problem to solve. It’s also related to the chemical components of the battery. So ultimately, it’s about how many kilowatts per pound you can store. There is a new generation of batteries coming out, which is the solid-state battery that we will probably wait for (look for a product in 2025 or so). It will be providing a 30% improvement on efficiency, which will be a great start.
Many people have said that you’re going to lose a little bit of your fan base by going electric. How are you going to be able to convince the die-hard riders of this new turn of events?
It’s very much a matter of timing. We also know that eventually, people will evolve in their thinking, and so we have to come up with the right product and technology. The truly wrong move would be going electric just for the sake of doing it. We will be producing the first electric Ducati Superbike, but only when technology is ready. When we do it correctly, we know that our customers will follow, just like they did when we introduced the V4 to replace our twin-cylinder. Our customers love it because they know that we would never compromise on quality or our great history.
In thinking of your famed racing heritage, is racing still at the core of Ducati’s identity?
Our strategy is that racing is very much one of our brand’s core pillars, and it will not change for the future. However, we are adding alongside these pillars several other significant parts, because we are a much larger and broader brand than say, ten years ago. We’ve introduced new models like the Multistrada, which is capable of long-range touring, alongside the Diavel, which is a kind of power cruiser. They are still considered sports bikes but with a more comfortable riding position and a lower seat height, which allows a wider range of people to ride them without compromising the overall ethos of the brand. Touring and cruising models are indeed an essential part of what Ducati is all about.
You’ve introduced the Scrambler in an attempt to appeal to more novice riders. Was that done with the American market in mind?
Not necessarily so. I think that that this works pretty well here in the US. However, it was also a great success in Europe. Primarily it’s a modernized version of our iconic Scrambler of the ’70s, which was very popular everywhere.
Has the Scrambler exceeded your expectations, or did it just meet your goals?
Lets say that in terms of financial results, it exceeded our expectations. We’ve sold the most sports bikes we’ve ever have in the first quarter of this year, so it is doing great.
Statistics tell us that only one out of five motorcycle buyers is a first-time buyer. The typical riders have been doing it for a long time; how do you reverse that trend? Moreover, how do we convince people that buying a motorcycle is something they should do?
We ultimately need to figure out a way to speak the right language to the right audience. We accomplish this with the following tactics: firstly, Ducati needs to learn about and be proficient in social media. Platforms like Instagram are fantastic to visually convey the appeal of our brand. Secondly, we need to create products that speak to the young people of today. It certainly feels that smaller, more maneuverable bikes are the way of the future.
How does a brand like Ducati compete with a brand like Harley-Davidson, which has been so ingrained in the American consciousness?
We don’t feel like we are competing with them all. They have a great history, but our customer bases are entirely different. What we are doing is defining the sport of motorcycling, and that is what we are all about. We truly concentrate on performance and design, which I believe brings a particular type of elegance and styling for the motorcycle, making it somehow a bit more European. While we are completely different brands, we can live side by side; it’s a massive industry!
You’ve come from the engineering side of the business what’s more important to you, design or performance?
I think that the real spirit of the brand is the connection between technology and design. There are very few brands in the world that have technology and design so much directly linked to one another. I don’t believe that you can separate them. Once the emphasis is either solely based on performance or technology, you somehow lose the elegance and style I’ve mentioned earlier, and that is what makes a Ducati special. It is an emotional pull that you feel just by looking at the motorcycle, and it is reinforced once you start riding and enjoying the overall performance.
How important is the American market for Ducati?
It’s dramatically important, especially here on the West Coast. California is possibly the best place on earth to ride, with unbelievable roads that are available all year round. Also, the entertainment side of the business is also located here, where we have a lot of great connections. We have a lot of passionate Americans who are in love with our brand, so it is indeed a vital aspect of our business.
What is Ducati’s legacy from your point of view?
Since we feel that we’ve only just begun to explore our full potential, it is a difficult question. I think that Ducati actually stands for style, sophistication, and performance. These three keywords are where you will find our ongoing legacy.
What is your favorite bike?
Another tricky question because I like them all, but I think that for overall ride-ability, I would choose the Multistrada. I’ve been a sports bike rider my whole life, but now, you know, I have a wife and kids, and so the Multistrada makes it possible to do it all. It’s a sport bike, yet you can put the bags on, and take your wife and have a lovely weekend in the mountains. So it’s a fantastic motorcycle in my opinion.
Besides motorcycling, what are your hobbies?
The main one would be skiing. I’m in love with the sport. I would even say that I’m kind of a desperate skier because now that skiing season has stopped, I’ve been planning the next one, waiting for the snow to come back. I ski like I ride: pretty fast!
Name one place you would go for one last ride.
I would go to Mugello! That place is uphill, downhill, with long and fast corners… it’s paradise.
Words by @ylesieur