Motorcycle.com was lucky enough to be offered a sit-down interview with Ducati CEO Claudio Domenicali on the new V-4 and the future, during the Laguna Seca World Superbike weekend. It’s fairly widely known that Domenicali is the real deal, a true enthusiast whose motorcycle expertise is matched not only by his business prowess, but also by his graciousness and shared excitement with Ducati owners, fans, media and the fellow motorcyclists he encounters on the road. We came prepared for our interview with some leading and wide-ranging questions designed to unearth not just Claudio’s insider knowledge of the new V-4 program, but also his thoughts on future models and opportunities.
MO: With the release of the Panigale Final Edition signifying the end of that model line, and given that the Panigale’s chassis was built around that particular set of V-twin cases, as you now switch to the V-4 it changes the core of the chassis and that must open fairly significant new design opportunities. As these opportunities for innovation present themselves, is the intention to focus 100% only on winning the World Superbike championship with the new Ducati V-4 model, or will some attention be focused on other innovations to serve as a technological showcase?
Domenicali: We are not focused on showcasing the things that are not effective, so the new bike will be very much based on performance first and we want to give to our customers and even some passionate riders of other brands an opportunity to experience the best technology available from the experience we’ve learned in MotoGP, so it’s not just showcasing, but it’s mainly much more solid development to achieve higher performance.
MO: Can we expect a much different direction from the new chassis, or will it be mostly just changes to accommodate the new cases?
Domenicali: No, it’s kind of an evolution to what we have now in order to accommodate some different tuning, but we’ll discover more when we launch the bike. (…and he smiles with a twinkle in his eye)
MO: Can you say if it will have a single or a double-sided swingarm, or do we have to wait?
Domenicali: It’s better to wait.
MO: Will Ducati still be racing a V-Twin powered machine when the 2019 WSBK season starts, or will you have a racing version of the new V-4 bike ready before then?
Domenicali: Oh for sure we will have a V-4 racebike ready by then.
MO: So last couple rounds of 2018 WSB season maybe, or will you wait until the season is over?
Domenicali: We’d like to finish the season, and then we’ll start off with the new one.
MO: What are Ducati’s plans for the V-4 platform after the superbike, will we see a whole range of V-4s coming, or will it be limited strictly to superbike models and MotoGP?
Domenicali: That’s a really sensitive question…. it’s too early to say.
MO: Is Ducati currently interested in pursuing the sharpest end of the Naked market, bikes like the Tuono and the Super Duke R where objective dynamic performance is super important… You currently have Monster, which is a very good engine but is set-up to be a different type of chassis, not necessarily set-up for racetrack performance or ultimate performance where the Tuono and Super Duke R are very very competitive, does Ducati want to go back and play with that like you did with the Streetfighter, or what do you think?
Domenicali: Yeah, it’s a possibility that we’re looking very seriously at.
MO: Which segment of the motorcycle market, globally, does Ducati see as offering the most opportunity in the next three to four years?
Domenicali: I think the most interesting segment is the Dual segment, uh it’s a very good combination where you can apply performance as you see with our Multistrada and still get a bike that is very comfortable and can carry luggage, like an SUV on two wheels you know? So like SUV are very popular with cars, dual bikes are becoming more and more popular motorcycles. Actually we are doing many developments of the current Multistrada, so I think we’ll see some good potential there.
MO: So when you say “Dual” are you thinking just ADV bikes, or also rally and sport-touring variants?
Domenicali: I’m thinking about the Multistrada and GS look-alikes, you know?
MO: Mostly Adventure Touring then?
MO: Scrambler has very much earned a lot of brand equity, and has done very well for Ducati. Tell me, trends play a big role in the development and future of Scrambler… do you see Scrambler as being a permanent long-term standalone brand, or do you think Scrambler is catering specifically to a niche now and might not move if that trend/niche goes away? ….Meaning, might we see Scrambler sport-tourers, Scrambler sportbikes, and other things of that nature under “Scrambler” as a brand identity unto itself, or will Scrambler always stay sort of a retro-fun lightweight bike?
Domenicali: Scrambler will stay, but we’ll never see a Scrambler sport-tourer. Scrambler is about bikes that are less weighted on performance and more weighted on just fun and an easily accessible entry point. Just naked bikes based on that air-cooled engine, nice power delivery, it’s easy to ride, easy to touch the ground, Scrambler will play in that area.
MO: Right now Ducati is very well positioned based on your brand identity and the demographics you target, to produce market and sell a beautiful electric powered motorcycle. We have a large following, maybe 10% of our readership that’s very interested in electric motorcycles for city commuting and things of that nature. Does Ducati have any interest at all in electric propulsion for motorcycles, or is the passion of internal combustion too much to ignore?
Domenicali: Yes, I think electric propulsion will be very interesting for the future, uh, even if we still consider today to be too early for how the technology of the battery is, and so when you put that on a motorcycle you have to compromise very much the weight currently if you want to achieve a reasonable range. So it will come but it needs some more time.
MO: You just need more energy density?
MO: As CEO for the last four years, keeping Ducati relevant and on a steady growth path is obviously your job #1, but the challenges you face personally as CEO day to day… are those primarily financial, worrying about the bottom line, or do other things keep you up at night outside of just the financial health of the company?
Domenicali: I wouldn’t say that the financial bottom-line is actually the most worry or the most important, Ducati is a wealthy company and we’re doing good. Of course I have to ensure good housekeeping and cost controlling and keeping the company well-organized, but the most important thing is to look to the future to make sure we’ll exist ten years from now. We know what to do for the next couple years, but it becomes much more complex to plan and know what do for between 2020 to 2025.
MO: Because you don’t know where the consumer will be?
Domenicali: Yes, where the consumer will be, but also technology…. how much the battery will develop by then, is the battery developing quickly or not, so to kind of look at a longer period more distant is the most difficult and most important part for me.
MO: So #1 for you would be product forecasting and maintaining a long-term product development road map?
Domenicali: Yeah, I think that and how in the long term all new digital revolutions could influence the way we conduct business. Digital changes could impact how we make business can effect how we make the bikes, how we sell the bikes, how we deal with the consumers, it can make everything a challenge more and more, so it’s very important not to wake up in the morning and suddenly understand that the company is old, you know?
MO: Setting the business aside for a second, let’s talk about you personally as a motorcyclist. Technically, what is your favorite aspect of Ducatis as motorcycles, is it aesthetic design, is it sound or power delivery, is it chassis performance, is it suspension compliance, I mean what specifically are you most drawn to as a motorcyclist and as an enthusiast yourself?
Domenicali: I think that the way the engines deliver the performance is unique to the world.
MO: Torque curve?
Domenicali: Yeah, torque curve and crispyness, you know?
MO: Yep, response?
Domenicali: Response, I mean response and sound is unique in the world… it runs from a Superleggera all the way to a Multistrada 950 you know, so it’s all the way across the range.
And there you have it, a look at Ducati’s future straight from the man holding the reins. Claudio Domenicali is a true enthusiast, a fantastic rider who understands not just the business of selling Italian passion, but also the very real technical aspects of designing and producing some of the world’s most desirable motorcycles. MO was privileged to get this much time with him in the midst of what must have been an extremely hectic weekend, and we’ve come away from the interview with an even greater respect for the businessman and enthusiast who sits at the head of one of Italy’s most respected brands.