Claudio Castiglioni Interview

The Godfather of Resurrection

Claudio Castiglioni (60) is the President of the MV Agusta Group (MVAG), soon to be under the wings of Harley-Davidson. He has made his reputation through financing 500GP successes with Cagiva in the eighties and for being the man responsible for resurrecting Ducati (1985), Husqvarna (1987) and MV Agusta (1991) literally with money from his own pocket in the nineties. Claudio owns Cagiva (Ca=Castiglioni Gi=Giovanni Va=Varese) with his brother Gianfranco. They inherited the company founded in 1950 from their father Giovanni. In 1978 Cagiva swapped from producing small metal components to producing motorcycles.

The history of Cagiva seems to have come full circle in 2008 as it marks the 30th anniversary since Cagiva bought a little factory in Varese from Harley-Davidson. Now that little factory that once produced 40.000 motorcycles a year is back in the hands of Harley-Davidson. Castiglioni is once again aiming at a figure of 30.000-40.000 units in only a few years as a result of the new deal. Cagiva, it seems, could soon be as strong as an elephant again, reflecting its logo.

Over the last 25 years Castiglioni’s relationship with Italy’s modern-day Michelangelo, Massimo Tamburini, have resulted in such fine motorcycles as the Ducati 916 and MV Agusta F4.

In 1996 Castiglioni sold a 51% share of Ducati to the Texas Pacific Group and the remaining shares in 1998. This financed the launch of another iconic Italian motorcycle, the MV Agusta F4 750 from 1997. Whilst all this happened to the bigger and more glorious sportbike brands, Husqvarna was racing on, winning Enduro and Motocross races and championships. In 2007 Husqvarna was sold to BMW and this enabled the Castiglioni’s to concentrate 100% on MV Agusta.

Below is a Q&A from an interview conducted last month while visiting the Varese HQ.

I started my interview by asking Castiglioni to describe his passion for motorcycles.

Claudio Castiglioni (CC): Motorcycles are my life, I have spent my life creating different motorcycles than the Japanese. This is my passion. Japanese bikes are good, but MV Agusta is an entirely different story.

On Cagiva:

CC: For 30 years I had to put some money down for the launch of the brand MV Agusta.

Q: Strategy, Mito...?

CC: I think that in the future I would also like to work for Cagiva. For the launch of the Mito 650 and maybe another bike. I don’t know how exactly, but for sure this will improve in the future, the brand. Also now with MV Agusta entering the middle category with a 600 and a fantastic engine and bike.

Q: 600 MV Agusta, is that something we can expect at this autumn’s Milan show?

CC: No, that’s further into the future. There’s no need for us to compete with other 600s because the engine and bike will be different (read Triple!). For sure the competition is competition, but I would like to prepare the bike into something more advanced.

Q: Everyone I have spoken to and seen today seems to be very excited about something that you will announce soon. I assume that this 600 is part of the reason?

CC: Exactly, this is a part of MV Agusta’s future. It’s part of the research and development that we will do. The other part of the business is not for me, I would like to invent and create new bikes. This is my dream for the future.

On Ducati:

CC: Ducati is history for me and now I need to concentrate on MV Agusta and maybe on the new superbike. I think it is possible maybe in 2009, also with some racing but principally testing. By 2010 we will be faster and maybe then the world superbike championship.

Q: With the current 1000cc engine or with a new engine?

CC: Maybe with some modifications, but still the inline-Four style, yes.

On Tamburini:

CC: I work with Tamburini for a long time - 25 years. Everything is okay, to start again to develop the bikes. I think to me it is important even more so than Tamburini with the new generation of designers. I like to work with young people to prepare the future, and for this reason CRC (Cagiva Research Centre headed by Tamburini) have many, many good people. Also here in Varese we have a lot of young and talented people, and I think it is no problem for this in the future. For sure, Tamburini and I will work together again on development, but also with the younger people.

Q: MV Agusta Supermono?

CC: Maybe, yes.

On MV Agusta:

Q: Big announcement looming, relaunch of MV Agusta - Is this correct?

CC: I have not decided yet, I think that in the future MV Agusta will spend more of the share on developing new models. I think MV in the future could possibly increase production to 30-40,000 bikes per year including the new models for sure.

Q: Like Triumph are doing now?

CC: Triumph is a very good company and they are doing very well. I would like to go in another way, more exclusive. This is very important because, not only for MV Agusta but I think in the future the European companies and particularly the Italian companies will have to change their direction - fashion and exclusivity, personality, performance. This is our life.

On Bimota:

CC: I think it is another history. I have very big respect for other companies, but I think Bimota is too small. MV Agusta has the best analogies here in Varese. One company to develop the engine, another for the design etc is not the ideal for us.

On the H-D link:

CC: Many people want to talk about this. Really I don’t know how it will happen in the future. I have many contacts. Many companies are showing interest in MV Agusta. Because I think it is the only company where it is possible to go in hard. You know, Ducati are very stable now, Triumph also, even though I believe it’s possible to increase the production also there, but not by much. With MV Agusta, yes it is possible to increase a lot compared to Ducati and Triumph.

Q: I have seen you on occasions with your son Giovanni. Is he a natural successor to yourself and does he share your passion in motorcycles?

CC: I think this is not so important because Giovanni needs to decide which direction that he’d like in the future. If he thinks it is good, it is possible to continue in the future.

Q: From the outside, people think that there are various financial problems or complications in the Italian motorcycle industry. Or even difficulties or a little bit different than in Germany and England or the US. I noticed that you didn’t want to describe it as a problem and always seem to find a way to create and build up an old brand. What’s in it for you?

CC: Husqvarna for instance took a long time to build up from nothing. I don’t think it’s possible to work one day for MV Agusta and then the next for Husqvarna and then one day for Cagiva. For this reason I preferred to sell Husqvarna. On the other side, in Germany, BMW don’t have the same problem I think. They have the cars and the motorcycles -hence the organisation. I think that in the next 5 years the financial problems will be over and maybe, our intention is to put MV Agusta as the first brand in Europe.

Q: Can you elaborate on how you are going to achieve that?

CC: When you have this ambition, I think you need to not only have money but for sure you need products. This is very important depending on our products when they enter the markets. That is not a problem for me, because our bikes are for sure very nice and very exclusive. I don’t think there’ll be any problems in the future.

Q: Being exclusive, how are you at the same time going to get 30-40,000 people to buy into the brand per year?

CC: I think it is possible because when you enter the 600 market the numbers are completely different compared to the 1000s, and for this reason it is possible to increase the numbers. Also with the single-cylinder, it’s very easy to go to a higher number.

Q: Does that mean that you will need a new factory?

CC: The capacity right here in Varese is 40,000 units per year.

Q: How many units did you sell in 2007?

CC: 6.000, and maybe similar this year.

Q: The Brutale is the big hit?

CC: Yes, and in particular for the 1078 the initial demand has been incredible! Our scheduled production starts in October. We need around 6 months to change the machinery.

Q: Why doesn’t the F4 sell as well as the Brutale?

CC: This is an incredible history because with the 989 the cost is different and the cost of the 1078 is 4-5000 Euros more than the 989. I think for Europeans and also Americans, Australians and the Japanese will prefer a very exclusive bike, and the cost is not important with our performance and our styling of every part of a MV Agusta. The quality control is very, very important for us.

Q: Are you saying that in the future you will make the top superbike even more exclusive than today? 

CC: Yes, the F4 CC (CC=Claudio Castiglioni) is 100,000 Euro each. But only 100 pieces. Yes, it is important to us but not for the production. Just for advertising, for fans our customers, but not for the overall business.

On Moto Guzzi:

When I mentioned to Claudio that my photographer and I were heading up the valley to Mandello and Moto Guzzi the following day Castiglioni commented:

CC: Moto Guzzi is a very nice company and brand. When you are entering the motorcycle business, you need three things, Money for sure, passion number 2 and then technology. Technology is important; the interest for the 1078 shows that. I am sure that in the future we’ll change the bike, but the engine is incredible. It’s not easy for us because the bike is nice already. But people that buy a bike like the F4 needs more power again. I don’t know why but life is like this. Also the cars are now 600 horsepower which is not necessary, but certain people like to buy cars or motorcycles like this.

Q: It has to stop somewhere, with 200 horsepower in the unrestricted Desmosedici RR etc...

CC: I think our bike now has the same horsepower as the Desmosedici

Q: Certain people have complained that the new Mito isn’t as appealing as the old one (916 design vs. Desmosedici RR)

CC: We will work more on the development of the Mito in the future. Right now my mind is concentrated on MV Agusta, but after that I work for Cagiva. When I have the possibility to continue my business, my business is to create the bike. I spend more time now on the financial part and it’s not good for the company.

Q: So you want someone else to do more of that so that you can concentrate on the R&D?

CC: Yes, absolutely, because this is my life and my passion, and people that work with me is like me because I only work with people like me with passion. If you’re not like me, then please go. The Japanese bikes are sometimes the top bikes, but I still think they are very old and old-fashioned, in my mind. Because it is not possible to compare MV Agusta to a Japanese bike. I think Japanese bikes are good, for sure they are good. But MV Agusta is another history. 

My dream for the future is to only work for the R&D department, not for other businesses in the company. I would like to stop doing what I do now when the other company enters MV Agusta and only concentrate on the R&D. This is my goal, because I have many things on my mind, but if it only stays in my mind it’s not good because that’s only for me. I would like to do other things now.

Q: Are you not afraid of losing control, leaving the company in other people’s hands? Then you do R&D and someone says, “No, we can’t afford this.”

CC: No, I think that our partner (H-D) in the future, I don’t want to spell out their name, but is a very intelligent person. Very intelligent and for this reason I would like to go with them. I don’t need the authority; I need the company because the company is the people working there. In the past I have made some mistakes, I accept this, how many I don’t know.  For me it is impossible to stay at a motorcycle company without development. When I have money I put it on the table. If financial problems, I put money on the table again. This is me, this is Claudio! It’s not possible to change this!

For practically 5 years now I don’t work directly with MV, I have worked for the financial business, the commercial, strategy, the factory and so on. But these past 5 years has been incredible for me but not as good for the company as I need to concentrate in the R&D and not in the other departments. The other departments are very important, but not for me.

Q: That’s interesting, as it’s the same in Harley-Davidson. Both Willy G. and Bill Davidson work at the R&D department whilst someone else does all the financial stuff...

CC: I know...
Q: What does it mean to you that Brad Pitt, Angie Jolie and Tom Cruise ride your bikes?

CC: For Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie to buy this bike, I think it’s for the love of MV Agusta. I would like to prepare for/build a special bike for Angelina Jolie in the future - only for her.

Q: She must be very important not only to MV Agusta, but also as a female rider to encourage other woman to ride?

CC: I like women, and particularly, women that ride motorcycles. Because women look fantastic when they ride motorcycles.

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