Volkswagen’s Audi unit has agreed to buy thoroughbred Italian motorcycle-maker Ducati for about €860 million ($1.12 billion) including debt, two people familiar with the matter said on Tuesday.
The deal allows VW chairman Ferdinand Piech, who has long coveted Ducati and himself owns one of their superbikes, to make up for a missed opportunity nearly 30 years ago to buy the maker of the fire-engine red 1199 Panigale, which boasts “the most powerful twin-cylinder production engine on the planet”.
One source said Ducati’s debt was well below €200 million. Analysts said the acquisition lacked obvious benefits for premium carmaker Audi.
“The purchase is driven by VW’s passion for nameplates rather than industrial or financial logic,” said Arndt Ellinghorst, analyst at Credit Suisse.
“It’s an unnecessary sideshow to VW's main challenges of integrating sports-car maker Porsche and merging truck operations at MAN and Scania.”
Ducati, which has won 13 rider’s Superbike World Championships since 1988, will increase the VW group’s brand portfolio to 12 and extend Audi’s long-standing rivalry with BMW to superbikes. It was Piech who piloted VW’s expansion to an 11-brand entity covering fuel-efficient city cars to 40-tonne trucks.
“The purchase does have a trophy feel to it, in the sense of something you might mount up on the wall next to the stag you shot last year,” said an auto industry analyst, who himself drives a Yamaha R1 superbike.
When Italian superbike rival MV Agusta was put on the block late in 2009 by Harley Davidson, Piech said he only had eyes for Ducati. “I would still like a small, valuable motorcycle manufacturer,” Piech said in April 2008, adding he should have jumped at the chance to buy Ducati in 1985 when it cost “peanuts”.