Ducati in North AmericaWhen Ducati North America’s General Manager begins to speak, his words flow endlessly, his depth of knowledge seemingly instinctual.This Frenchman, Dominique Cheraki, makes my job as a journalist easy. Forget a long list of questions; by the time Cheraki finishes answering one, he has already answered many others.
Knowing Cheraki’s demeanor from previous interviews, I kept things to a minimal when I prepped to speak to him at the Progressive International Motorcycle Show in New York City about Ducati’s record-breaking 2012 sales year. Actually, I didn’t prep at all.Speaking before a circular stage where the all-new Hyperstrada and Hypermotard SP motorcycles took precedence over others in Ducati’s 2013 lineup, Cheraki, a former stock broker and financial COO, began discussing 2012’s success.“We came to NYC not only to display our new bikes, but to also celebrate a record-breaking year,” Cheraki says. “Following the success of 2012, we (Ducati North America) are the number one Ducati market in the world, and are very proud about the results. This arrived after very hard work from everyone in every position, from dealers to management.”This laborious work paid off. In 2012, Ducati North America sold a record 10,883 motorcycles. Growth was quick, also; overall sales increased in North America by 21 percent over 2011. To arrive at this number, each North American region increased marginally – USA by 21 percent, Canada by 25, and Mexico by 7.With this new yearly sales record, Ducati North America also achieved its 10th consecutive quarter of increased sales, which further solidified the region as the Bologna-based manufacturer’s number-one global market.“Much of this success is due to the technically-advanced 1199 Panigale, which helped us significantly. We sold more than 2,000 in 2012, and the Panigale wasn’t even offered for the full year (it was offered from May 2012 and on).”Worldwide, more than 7,500 Pangiale 1199 superbikes were sold. The motorcycle proves that intense innovation can work at a company that ardently adheres to its historical roots in both racing and road bikes. The 1199 Panigale was a risk, considering it went against Ducati heritage. The 1199 is the first superbike to break from the traditional Trellis frame that was launched on the 600 Pantah TT2 and used on all sportbikes through 2011.But reasons for growth on the global Ducati front are more than breaking with tradition and technological innovations. Diversity and revision across the entire lineup also helped propel Ducati into the mainstream North America motorcycle market.Ducati has followed this diversity routine since the introduction of Hypermotard family in 2007. The Streetfighter would follow in 2009, the revamped Multistrada in 2010, and Ducati’s power cruiser in 2011, the Diavel, which sent shock waves through the industry when introduced. There was also the SportClassic (now discontinued), and many reiterations of the bike that saved Ducati from financial turmoil following its introduction in 1993, the Monster.This diversity plan was ignited in 2005 after the takeover of Ducati by Investindustrial, which invested enormous amounts into R&D. As diversity increased, so did sales. Then the big Audi AG acquisition occurred in April, 2012, reportedly for over a $1 billion.Underneath Audi AG, Ducati had increased financial support, which helped with the introduction of additional 2013 models, including the 1199 R, the Multistrada Gran Turismo, the Hypermotard SP, the Diavel Strada, and the Hyperstrada.It’s easy to tell the Hyperstrada is Cheraki’s favorite newcomer. He says the bike is significant for further success in North America due to a multiple reasons.“The Hyperstrada is every idea we put into the Multistrada, but with a smaller bike. The Multi is a great success in the US due to touring capabilities, and many US riders seek a long-distance motorcycle,” Cheraki says.“We took those Multi ideas, and developed a touring motorcycle built on a Hypermotard design. The Hyperstrada is lower than the Hypermotard, has luggage and a windscreen. It’s a touring bike, but when you ride it it’s very sporty. And the North American market had much influence on the design of the Hyper.”The Hyperstrada, along with the rest of the Hypermotard family (SP, standard), also received a new engine for 2013 – the 821cc Testastretta 11-degree engine.Speaking of the new L-Twin, Cheraki says “the 821 has the soul, torque, and the feeling of a high-performance Ducati, but it is very smooth and usable on the street. And it’s rated at a 110 horsepower, so there’s no reason newcomers will be afraid of the power.”Another critical point regarding the design of the 821cc Testastretta engine is service intervals, which are now 18,600 miles (compared to 7,500 on 796cc engine that was offered in the 2012 Hypermotard). Cheraki says longer service intervals are of “great importance to the North American market due to the miles traveled while touring.”The Hyperstrada’s recipe for a successful US model is completed with the latest in technology (three-level ABS, eight-level Ducati Traction Control (DTC), and three riding modes), and a price point of $13,295.Cheraki says the lower price point will attract more touring-oriented motorcyclists to possibly enter the Ducati family. After that, it’s all graduation. Think of the Hyperstrada as a stepping block to the more expensive and powerful Multistrada, just as the 848 is to the 1199, and the Monster 696 is to the entire Ducati family.But besides the new lineup of bikes, there is also a huge branding element at play in North America – the retail identity program.Cheraki spoke of this dealer initiative in early 2012: “the introduction of the retail identity program demonstrates Ducati’s commitment to its core brand values, while building a complete and seamless shopping experience for customers. We are dedicated to a continual investment in the functional and emotional quality of our products, as well as the premium retail experience.”This revamping of the Ducati shopping experience involves much work. The idea is to not only attract potential customers to Ducati products through an attractive layout in the store, but once there, also drive those customers’ emotions towards the Ducati brand.“It’s a long-time project. Every week we do two installations of the program at dealers, and should have 95 percent of the initiative complete by the end of the year.”Dare I mention passion, but the entire staff at Ducati North America is heart-forward when it comes to current and future products, and the brand. Throughout the years, the company has always brought Italian emotions and high-performance products to the North American front, but lately it’s more than that.With the current management lineup, the diversity of products and low price entry-points, the Ducati name has started to take on other meanings. Sure, passion and performance will always be the soul of the company, but the Ducati family is reaching a more diverse culture across the globe, especially here in North America. From the urban hipsters who love their Monsters and SportClassics to the touring aficionados who love their Multistradas, the Ducati brand continues to spawn in other segments. And quickly.The obvious proof is in the numbers, and 10 consecutive quarters of increased sales results in North America proves this. And with another crop of fresh motorcycles about to enter dealerships, 2013 is likely going to be another successful year at Ducati North America.
This week we ride two genre-departing motorcycles from the established American manufacturers. Jess McKinley gives us his thoughts on the all new Harley-Davidson Pan America Special, and Ron Lieback gives his on Indian’s latest version of the FTR 1200 S.