An absolute force, Ducati CEO, Claudio Domenicali has risen through the ranks at the Bologna-based firm and has now run Ducati Motor Holding in his current role since 2013. We were lucky enough to have the chance to interview Claudio during our time at the Bologna facility for the Ducati Design Center workshop. We spoke with Claudio about the future of electric motorcycles as he sees it, conducting business in the digital age, and the sheer breadth of the company’s expansive product portfolio. Order up a cappuccino, sit back, and enjoy.
MO: Regarding a comment made during a student-run racing series in which the Ducati-supported University of Bologna’s UniBo rookie team took third in the electric class: “The future is electric and we’re not far from beginning production of the series.” Can you elaborate on this at all? Perhaps an idea of how far out Ducati is from announcing anything?
Domenicali: I think there may have been some misinterpretation. For sure the future is electric and we are investigating a lot into the subject, but the way for serial production, in our case, it will take still some time. It is a different concept that we are currently evaluating but still the combination between weight and cost of the battery and the possibility of making the bike really light and agile is difficult with the current state of the battery. Technology is developing and we want to be part of this development and this is the reason why we have a group which is studying exactly how could be the possible layouts.
MO: Considering the types of electrics Ducati plans to bring to market, do you see Ducati’s future in e-mobility in the urban setting or rather with an electric sportbike or naked bike?
Domenicali: I think it’s a very wide spectrum of possibility with positives and negatives, and still it’s not fixed. We are really weighing all of the different possibilities.
MO: When Harley-Davidson announced the Livewire, they made a point about the motorcycle having a specific sound that would set it apart. Obviously, Ducati is also synonymous with a particular sound and other unique characteristics as well. Do you see Ducati working to do something similar to set its e-motorcycles apart in the crowd?
Domenicali: I think that will be part of the development, yes. Even if it will not be as easy in a way, you know? So, it’s kind of a learning process for us moving into the future.
MO: I think you’ve said it numerous times in past few years, that battery technology simply isn’t at a point for Ducati to seriously consider a production electric. Are you still feeling this way or are you starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel?
Domenicali: I think it’s different from a kind of mobility concept. Low weight, that’s more ready to go now. While it is more complex and difficult for a full-scale motorcycle to go long range. So, it will depend which type of vehicle. Basically, what makes the difference is the requested range, but I’m pretty sure that we will see a development in battery technology which at the end, it’s where everything starts from. The only point is that motorcycles are in a bit of a different situation than a car because the car have all of the weight on the bottom, and it makes it easier to carry that, but I’m pretty sure that, even in different timing, we will see electric motorcycling succeed in the long term.
MO: Considering some of the new higher performing electrics on the market or some that are about ready to drop, what is your thought of the battery technology being used in those machines?
Domenicali: With the current technology it’s a bit of niche because you need to compromise on range, basically, if you want to have a light motorcycle. Chemicals are developing slower than software, which is developing really quickly. When you have a very powerful motor, it also uses a lot of energy. So, even the range is very much depending on how hard the user is on the throttle.
MO: At one point a quote you mentioned, “In the long term all new digital revolutions could influence the way Ducati conducts business.” How has that impacted Ducati’s current plans to conduct business?
Domenicali: That’s a very strategic point for us. So, I can’t answer in too much detail (laughs). It has a lot to do with data. What we know about how our customer uses the motorcycle and what they are doing and how we can serve them in kind of a seamless relationship from the day they start being interested in the brand, then they start to be interested in the product. Then they may enter a shop, test ride a motorcycle. Maybe they purchase a motorcycle and service it, and they repurchase. It’s a kind of lifelong possible experience in which basically now we have a lot of possibility to interact with them. To have a two-sided relationship. So, technology it’s moving a lot, and really there are a high number of possibilities that can be exploited that were not a possibility even five years ago. At the very end, we remain about motorcycles. The possibility to interact and to exchange data with us, to exchange data with friends, to build a community which shares opinion and discussion, it’s on mobile and it’s opening new possibilities to interact with the brand when you’re not on the motorcycle.
MO: Would you say the Scrambler sub-brand has been the most successful push into using this approach for Ducati?
Domenicali: Yes, but we are doing it with both brands, Ducati and Scrambler. So, with Scrambler yes, but with Ducati we are also working on Instagram and with our app which you can connect to the bike and other stuff we are developing.
MO: Do you include this type of interaction within the same vein as the DRE schools and other consumer-facing interaction?
Domenicali: Yes, and also on the racing side. Racing is kind of a superb tool for engaging, and we are considering and studying how to engage more directly and interact with the customer.
MO: Is that something to do with WSBK and MotoGP, but possibly having Ducati’s own online portal for Ducatisti to be able to access behind the scenes information during races?
Domenicali: Yes, this direction.
MO: Thinking about Scrambler a bit more. Ducati has, for a long time, been considered an aspirational brand. Do you still consider Ducati to be only aspirational or, now with the introduction of the Scrambler and the Scrambler Sixty2, is there a more dedicated path to bring new riders directly into the brand? How has this changed within the past five to ten years?
Domenicali: I think that the brand has enlarged and we have been able to talk with different people. Ten or fifteen years ago, the brand was a more sportbike-oriented customer which still we are because when you come to the Panigale V4R, it’s the most sporting and performing sport motorcycle that you can buy on the market. We did not lose that. We added on the brand and on the product portfolio product that enlarged the possibility. So, you have the old Scrambler which is younger, less intimidating, easy-going – we call it the land of joy. Then we have more touring oriented motorcycles like the Multistrada, we have the XDiavel and Diavel which are more cruiser-like, and then we of course have the traditional Monster and Hypermotard. It gives us a very broad portfolio which we tried very hard to put together without diluting the brand. We were kind of every year making some enlargement of the brand and some other years focusing on brand enlargement on a step-by-step basis. Of course, Panigale R is a brand focus because you want to say to the Ducatisti, ‘I am still the real Ducati’, and then with Scrambler 400 it is, of course, enlarging because you are doing something very different. We are very happy for that because then we have a wider platform and we are able to build a larger community.
MO: As you’ve branched out and grown Ducati’s product offerings, do you feel now that the biggest growth opportunity is having a broad product portfolio or rather looking ahead to expanding into new markets?
Domenicali: I think both are very relevant. There are very interesting new markets especially in Asia in which we are doing great and product-wise as well. When you have a brand like Ducati you cannot actually neglect any possibility. We are not fighting for volume, but size does matter in a way. If you can achieve some more sales because we have a different market, it will give us more resources to invest in product development, which at the very end is the core of our investment. Most of our investments go in order to think about new product for the future and keeping up with the development of new technology. I think that in the current state of the model range I think that we are reasonably ok, so I think it will be more of refinement now.
MO: Are there any other segments that Ducati plans to extend into?
Domenicali: Yeah, there are a few, but not many.
MO: Is there ever worry of overextending the Ducati portfolio?
Domenicali: So far, everything has been accepted well. Our brand is defined by the three core values that we always keep in mind: Style, Sophistication, and Performance. We have seen that as long as we stay loyal to these core values the product is well accepted in the market. I think that now we are in a balance situation. Every time we decide to expand the product range, we think about it very carefully because it is a compromise all the time between having the possibility to be relevant to a different customer and managing the complexity. The complexity is increasing because of homologation requirements and generally working worldwide. You have many countries to align with. It’s always very complicated, but once you think carefully about that, normally you find a reasonable compromise.