The guys at Ducati are in a good mood these days. Last month North American retail sales were up 106% over January 2010; last year saw double the market share of 2006 and a 10% increase in sales for Q3 and Q4.
Oh, and that cool Cigarette boat that just came out? Ducati helped develop it.
John Paolo Canton, a spokesman for Ducati North America, credits much of the company’s recent success (and the big get for the racing team) to a “relentless” R&D cycle. The Multistrada in particular played a key role.
“The Multistrada 1200 was groundbreaking,” Canton says. “It was the first motorcycle to really incorporate a lot of the technology found on cars—traction control, [ABS] braking—the first to wrap it all up as a package. A rider can say ‘I want the bike to run off-road.’ And you click a button twice and the traction control changes your engine, the mapping software changes, your suspension lifts the bike off the ground, everything.”
Tech like that doesn’t come cheap (the Multistrada 1200 S costs almost $20,000). But it shows that the right product will sell, even during a rough economy: Multistrada was Ducati’s second-best-selling model in 2010, despite the fact that it was available only half the year.
Ducati’s top-seller, the $9,000 Monster, is arguably its most-revered product. The Monster and Superbike families combined accounted for more than 70% of Ducati sales last year.
But the biggest hype lately has surrounded the brand-new Diavel. It’s a 463-pound, 162-horsepower cruiser that goes from 0-62 in 2.6 seconds. That’s faster than the base model of the $17,000 Superbike, without being as high-maintenance. Plus, it offers three ride modes (Sport, Touring and Urban), dual traction control and wireless ignition.
Canton says it’ll fit seamlessly into the Ducati portfolio—and that’s the point.
“If you go off the wholesale orders of our projections for 2011 between the Diavel and the Multistrada, the Sportbikes and the Monster, they’re going to roughly represent 20% of sales each,” he says. “Where it used to be that two families were 75% of sales, now it’s a well-rounded company.”
Part of that well-roundedness extends to making sure Ducati gets to the podium come race season. Rossi’s arrival goes a long way toward ensuring that goal. The Italian is widely credited for turning around the racing teams at Honda and Yamaha; Ducati expects him to bring extraordinary fine-tuning expertise when he joins partner Nicky Hayden on the track this year.
“The No. 1 thing Valentino will bring to our racing department will be his ability to develop a race bike,” Canton says. “The guy is so precise with his feedback. Of course he’s unbelievable on the motorcycle but historically when he’s had a bike that hasn’t worked for him, he’s able to give feedback to his engineers and they in turn have been able to adjust the bike to be able to make it a winner.”
It’s the same thing Michael Schumacher had going for him when he was winning everything in Formula 1. It may not be flashy, but being able to build a team that can refine a motorbike will be the key to their success, Canton says.
“Valentino can tell you, ‘I’m roughly 47 degrees over, and I felt it slip six inches before the bike went underneath me,’ which a lot of other riders can’t analyze to that pinpoint of accuracy. [Former Ducati racer] Casey [Stoner] was unbelievable on the motorcycle. But Casey’s way of doing it was ride absolutely out-of-control on the limit and force the bike to work. And he’s mashed himself up quite a bit doing it–but it never improved the motorcycle.”
Rossi will make his first racing appearance in late March. Canton couldn’t be more excited.