Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock Interview At 2019 Long Beach IMS
Progressive International Motorcycle Shows kicked off its eight-stop tour of the United States in Long Beach, Calif., where two-wheeled fans converge and feast their eyes on the hottest new models from their favorite manufacturers. While at the Long Beach IMS stop, we took a walk through some of the highlights of Ducati’s 2020 lineup with Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock to pick his brain about future MotoAmerica involvement and a few other interesting topics.
Chinnock began his career in the motorcycle industry, humbly, as a parts manager at a dealership— eventually joining Ducati North America (DNA) in 2004. Since then, he has moved through the ranks of DNA, leaving temporarily in 2012 to take a position with Lamborghini—another brand operating under the Audi umbrella. During his four-wheeled tenure, Chinnock led Lamborghini’s marketing and communication department.
The siren-call of 90-degree V-twins was too strong, so in 2016, Jason returned to the Ducati’s Mountain View, Calif. based homestead, settling in the captain’s chair as the DNA CEO.
Chinnock is equipped with a drive and passion for motorcycling that is palpable, not just for the brand he maintains the reigns of, but for all things two-wheeled in general. He’s talks shop with the best of them, and that’s exactly what we discussed during this interview.
Ultimate Motorcycling: We’ll let you lead the way and show us what you’re most excited about in the coming 2020 model year.
Jason Chinnock: Okay. Let’s just start over here in Scrambler. We have a lot of things cooking in Scrambler for 2020, but we’re not showing them all right away. In fact, you saw some of the concepts that were shown in EICMA with the Scrambler Desert X and Scrambler Supermoto concept bikes. Those are just concepts, but it’s something that we are evaluating and taking feedback from to decide whether they’ll go into production. It’s premature for me to say yay or nay, but let’s just…I do know that there was a lot of positive response to it.
UM: Those two concepts were impressive, and the Desert X garnered a lot of attention. It’d be interesting to see those come to market.
JC: It’s exciting. One of the things we’ve had a lot of feedback on is that we have lots of bold, bright colors in the world of Scrambler, but we haven’t done something that’s kind of muted and dark. So, we came out this year with a very simple but elegant Scrambler Dark. The thing that’s also nice about the Dark, and we have a history with this, is that the Dark also offers a very good price point for people that are new into motorcycling or interested in the Scrambler world.
This Scrambler Dark here is $8795, which is $800 less than the standard Icon. So, we have a lot of excitement about this because it helps bring people in to motorcycling, as Scrambler’s successfully done, but also when it’s matte black, you either go with the cool kind of stealth look, or you can use this as your base palette to create anything that you want, which is kind of the beauty of Scrambler.
UM: And talking about the Dark history, I remember the 749 Dark, so this goes back quite a long time. There have been several Monster Dark versions as well, which all have offered a slightly more affordable MSRP and entry into Ducati ownership.
JC: Absolutely, and this has not been de-speced in terms of any of the technology or components. The standard Scrambler Icon exists within a Dark model. For example, the cornering ABS that’s in all the other 2019 and 2020 Scramblers is available. We didn’t compromise any of the technology whatsoever. It’s basically just aesthetics. It’s the paint and a couple of bits and pieces here and there, but nothing from a technical standpoint.
UM: That’s very cool, and its fun having an iconic Ducati moniker come back to a fold. I can remember seeing plenty of Monster Dark models popping up over the years.
JC: I’ve always been a fan of the Dark moniker. Shifting gears, a bit, we announced earlier this year that we had delivered the hundred-thousandth Multistrada. So, talking about how long the Multistrada has been around and in that time, the product range has gotten quite broad; all the way from the 950, 950 S, to the 1260, 1260 Pikes Peak, and then also the Enduro.
The Enduro has been a great bike for us. Specifically, this year, with the 1260 Enduro, it’s really an honor to commemorate this milestone, along with providing the top of the line Multistrada.
We came out with the Multistrada Grand Touring, which is the one that you see here, in this beautiful livery that is quite bold and unique. Still, it’s a bit understated at the same time.
From a mechanical standpoint, the Grand Touring Multistrada is identical to the 1260, except that it’s fully loaded. The motorcycle has the additional LED fog lights on here. It has the electronic fuel cap, so you keep the key in your pocket and you just pop the fuel cap electronically without having to break it out, the tire pressure monitoring system, etc. It also comes standard with the Touring Pack that you see here as well, which includes the heated grip, a center stand, and the panniers. The intention is to be able to give you a fully loaded version of the bike in a very specific scheme.
UM: Following up on the multi-platform, this is going to be another flagship year going into 2020 because while we’ve haven’t received official word, it has been confirmed that the V4 is coming to the Multistrada. So, is the fully loaded Multistrada Grand Touring a way of saying goodbye to the twin engine?
JC: Yeah, you could almost think of it as that. Whenever we’ve done a final edition, the final edition has always been the pinnacle of that product range. So, I’d say, unofficially, we’re seeing this as almost the final edition.
UM: Sounds good.
JC: [Ducati CEO] Claudio Domenicali said very clearly that a V4 Multistrada is in development.
UM: It’s happening.
JC: And that’s all I can say on that. [laughs]
Moving over here, last year we had great success in the U.S. with the Diavel 1260, and everybody just gravitated towards this cool black. We came out with black and a gray, but this year we actually had a lot of requests for something that people would expect from us, and that is a Ducati Diavel 1260 in red. We also took some styling cues and some details from a bike that we did called the Diavel Materico, which was done as a very special one-off in Milan.
From a mechanical standpoint and technology, it’s the same, but it has a unique livery with the Diavel stripe down the center. The undertail pan, which is a very understated element that you really won’t see unless you’re deep into a corner, is an aspect, we’re to be able to show off. The 1260 motor in this platform has been very, very well received—very strong.
What we’ve seen is consistent growth for the Diavel. It allows people that, let’s say, have always appreciated or enjoyed a Superbike but want something that’s upright and don’t want to commit to a touring style motorcycle, it allows them to have something they can rip around town on. My experience is that I go as fast as I need to in the canyons on a Diavel as I would on anything else, and with the big meaty rear tire, it gives you all that grip.
UM: Is this the first time that the Diavel has offered in the typical Ducati red? Because before it was black and…was it white?
JC: It’s been a long time, but I think it was the second or third year of the Diavel we ended up having a red with a white stripe down the middle of the tank, with white wheels, of all things. That was like mid-2000s, late-2000s.
UM: So, it’s been a while.
JC: It’s been a long time, yeah. When they made this, they also made it a point to kind of add some other interesting visual elements. Things like doing this [pointing to side fairing] in a silver brushed aluminum versus the anodized black, but little details to make this thing pop. There is an understated version, and then this is for the Ducati enthusiast that wants to have a Diavel that speaks for them.
UM: This is for the Ducatisti. [laughs]
JC: Exactly. Then moving on to the Superbikes. We just recently launched the 2020 Ducati Panigale V2 in Jerez this last weekend. You’re familiar with this bike? [laughs]
UM: I am. I was there.
JC: There’s probably not a lot that I need to tell you about that you didn’t already learn there. [laughs]
I see this as probably being the perfect track bike for most riders, one that they can ride confidently and comfortably on the street. It’s a perfect balance. The one thing I want to point out is, I think it’s very impressive that our engineers have been able to take an existing engine and get it to Euro 5 specifications, while still increasing horsepower and torque.
Usually, when you take an existing motor and must meet stricter emissions, it will bring down performance because it’s generally more restrictive. They’ve been quite successful in being able to get that extra power and performance out of it. Then, of course, the electronics package suite and styling that you would see on the V4 has made its way to this bike with full TFT dash, LED lights, etc. I’m excited about this motorcycle for the track.
UM: When we rode this bike at Jerez, it was incredibly impressive. The standout characteristic of this model, and the characteristics of all the middleweight Ducatis over the years, is that it gives a more palatable, accessible experience. You’re not getting modern superbike horsepower figures, and it allows a wider range of to ride it competently.
If you’re an intermediate rider, you can get on it and feel confident, whereas an advanced rider can get on it and really extract all the performance that they can possibly get out of it. A superbike is less approachable. As awesome as they are, the truth is most people really should be on something like a V2 or a 600cc machine.
UM: Now, in terms of sales figures, the middleweights have always been really important for Ducati. So, what are you expecting for the U.S. market?
JC: I expect the V2 to basically do better than what we’ve done in the last few years on 959, but we’ve not seen any slowing down of the 959, either. It has been a consistent and strong seller. In fact, between 959 and V4, in what we identify as the ‘sport big’ segment, we’ve been number one for the last two years solid.
It is crazy to think with all the amazing motorcycles that are out there that with two models, and there’s plenty of other brands that have two models in the ‘sport big,’ which is over 900cc sportbikes. We have delivered the number one position twice, and it’s because of having a product like the 959 that is…let’s call it an upper middleweight. I know people refer to it as a middleweight, but it’s not a 600 or 750.
UM: Although I’m in the media and we usually try to avoid rehashing the marketing terms, the fact that you guys call it a ‘super-mid’ is very fitting.
JC: Yeah, it’s more appropriate. The reality is, when you look at a bike like the V2 that delivers 155 horsepower, it isn’t too far away from Superbikes of yesterday. The 1098 produced 150 horsepower!
UM: Even with a 916 way back when, it’s making more than that. That’s the bike that really started it all.
JC: Oh yeah. All day long. It’s surpassed the 916, and then some. And then over here, the 2020 V4, which basically has taken a lot of what we’ve learned with the V4 R. The first thing you obviously notice is the aerodynamics package and the fairing, which has been something that has been a tremendous success in the V4 R, but being able to bring it to the V4 itself, both the standard and the S model. The main benefit this year is increasing the overall handling with less intervention of electronics.
Aerodynamics have improved dramatically without having to have intervention of the wheelie control to the degree that you would normally need on a bike that can deliver this level of power. We’ve also put the front-frame of the V4 R on this motorcycle as well, because we’ve had some feedback about the feel and the stiffness. This front-frame reduces the torsional stiffness, and it provides better feel to the front end and front tire.
From a matter of electronics, all the electronics have been upgraded, and there are things like the algorithm for the traction control. That is something that we learned directly from World Superbike this last season, and that’s been integrated into this motorcycle. So, it has an updated algorithm for the traction control intervention, which is basically more frequent and a little bit smoother of an intervention instead of it being a bit peak-and-valley.
I can go on and on and on, but there are a lot of other details that had been refined on the bike, which is interesting because usually our life cycle on a product like this is about three years before there are any changes. Based on everything we learned from the V4 R during its time in WSBK, we felt as though that we can bring a lot of that to the V4 and V4 S in order to refresh it and in just two years. It’s not just electronics, but chassis changes as well, and we’ll get into that at another time.
UM: The V2 is utilizing some of the same tech, as it’s equipped with the Evo 2 TC algorithm you mentioned, which is a big improvement over previous strategies. Even on a platform with more modest power, though 155 horsepower is nothing to sneeze at, the TC is definitely refined. The Marelli and Bosch package that you and some of your competitors use is good stuff—there’s a reason you’re up in the front.
Regarding the front-frame from the V4 R that is now present on all V4 Superbikes, we’re talking about the monocoque chassis influence where the engine is used as a stressed member, and the entire design is a big departure from the traditional Ducati trellis frame. The Ducati trellis frame’s legacy is built on an impressive amount of feel. So, regardless of how you feel about the rest of the bike or the motor, the trellis chassis was always super communicative. So, as a brand, are you trying to mimic the characteristics of a trellis frame with the monocoque design? Is that a goal that Ducati is working towards?
JC: No, I don’t believe that there’s any attempt to try and mimic that feel. I think that the intention is to try and provide the best feeling product, based on what the platform is, because every engine is going to have a different characteristic. When we moved to the V4 engine, we had to design a completely new frame around it. Then, with what we ended up taking racing, we learned much more. We can machine out elements of the frame itself; playing with the stiffness and flexibility of the frames, essentially.
If the fairing wasn’t here, you would see two big holes on the side of the frame, which is basically machined out to provide that flex. So, I don’t think it’s necessarily with the intention of doing that. I mean, it was a practical application for racing. Things like the trellis frame or twin engine become a bit of religion, if you will, but there are very few sacred cows in the world of Ducati.
I mean, it used to be the dry clutch with all Ducati models. These days, except for the V4 R and the Anniversario 916, a dry clutch is not on any of our bikes because it’s not the best practical application for the product. A dry clutch has plenty of benefits in racing, but is less practical for the average street rider.
I think that’s what we should focus on and more important than heritage. Heritage is important to know where you’ve come from. I’d rather not get stuck in heritage and risk not giving somebody the best possible product, and that’s what our engineers are focused on. They want to give somebody the best because, if they’re not, then you just become a heritage brand, and like that’s not who we are.
UM: Heritage should never impede progress.
JC: Exactly. That’s a great way to put it. I’m going to take that, by the way. I’ll use that. [laughs]
Finally, the V4 Streetfighter. We started with the Panigale V4 chassis, we stripped it down naked and then ended up building around it different intakes, exhaust, and then a lot of the bodywork has changed.
For example, people think this is the same gas tank, but it’s not. It’s a completely different gas tank. It’s been redesigned to be able to accommodate the rider a little bit better. The seating position is totally different. It’s been designed to be much more ergonomically comfortable. As you can see, there’s a lot of padding in this seat when compared to a standard V4, and it delivers the power differently as well.
The engine is identical; it’s the same exact engine, but it’s the intake and exhaust that is different and provides us the ability to tune it differently. So, what you see here is a bike that sacrifices a little bit of the top-end power, so it’s 208 versus 214. Sorry, you’re going to lose a little bit of that, but it has more tractable torque, which is where you’re going to want to use the bike when you’re riding this on the street.
I don’t have the graphs with me today, but I think it’s third, fourth, and fifth gear where there’s a significant double-digit increase in percentage of torque during those gears at certain rpm’s. You’ll feel that. It has a much more linear delivery of that torque.
It has the similar electronics package that you see on any V4 models around. We’re excited about that, and we spoke about some of the improvements earlier.
Then you can obviously see the aerodynamics. One of the things in the early development of this bike is that it did not have the wings, originally; and when I say early, even as early as this year. In fact, this bike will debut in a movie next year, and it will not have the wings on it because it was before we had decided upon it.
The aero package was eventually added as recently as this summer. Once again, it’s a smart solution to allow us the least amount of intervention from the electronics and have something that still provides a very natural feel of how the front end is controlled, not only from the wheelie control but from hard acceleration—keeping the front end down. Also, during hard braking and deceleration, we found that these wings help stabilize the front end, so you don’t get that squirrelly feel.
UM: Actually, I just noticed one of the best features about the Streetfighter, right here on the kickstand. [points to nub on the kickstand to help flip it down]
JC: The little nub to be able to lower the kickstand, so you don’t have to hunt for it. Yes, exactly. The ergonomic triangle has been completely redesigned. In fact, we did a lot of benchmarking against other competitors to find the optimal riding position to get the best handling, but also comfort, because we don’t want to compromise the handling. We want to make sure people can ride this in the real world for a while, as well.
UM: Ride it aggressively, but also ride it for an extended period of time.
JC: Exactly. As you know, when you bring a handlebar up, you’re taking weight off the front end of the motorcycle, so you don’t want to lose that feel either. So, your body position’s going to be crucial. We’re extremely excited about this one.
UM: The Ducati Riding Experience was something that was more or less exclusive to the European market for a long time. Now, these events are coming to the U.S. Last year, you guys did some of your first events. Are there plans to do more?
JC: Yeah, we did. This year we ended up doing DRE Enduro in Sundance, Utah. We had it for a week. We had two standard sessions, an intense Evo session, and we brought Beppe Gualini, who you might know from press launches, over as our lead instructor. It’s really with the intention of establishing our DRE Enduro program in North America for an annual use.
We did our pilot of the DRE racetrack in Mexico City this last year, as well. The intention was for us to be able to import both of those programs over here and take on what we believe to be the more challenging for the market. We’re not known for our off-road capabilities in the U.S., and in Mexico, it’s just the opposite. In Mexico, everybody rides a Multistrada, so we’re not really known for our track capabilities in Mexico outside of what people watch on TV.
I’m not a fan of always just going for the easiest thing first, so we went exactly the opposite end with both American DRE initiatives. We learned a lot from both the programs, and they were successful and something that will evolve for 2020. Next year, we’re going to be bringing the DRE racetrack to North America, and then also we’re talking about bringing the DRE Enduro to Mexico.
UM: The last thing I want to touch on before we wrap all this up is the 2020 season with MotoAmerica. Now, it’s rumored that Ducati is going to have a greater presence there.
JC: It was great to see Kyle Wyman as a privateer get out there and do this. In fact, I’ll have Kyle here later today, and we’re going to do a little Q and A with him.
We were very inspired by that because, at the end of the day, we’re not just selling these beautiful motorcycles for people to put them into their living rooms, which is great as well—we want to see people ride them!
The fact that he was inspired to go on his own to do this is incredible. We helped him out a little bit by getting the first couple of bikes over for him and his team. We sent him an engineer from Corsa when he got the electronics package, so there are some things that we did to help Kyle out along the way.
We also had a time where I got a phone call from Wayne Rainey that said, “Hey Jason, we really want Ducati out here at the track. What can you do?” So, we put a customer activation together at Sonoma, and it was sort of last minute. We said, “Let’s do something.” We’re not just going to go there and set up bikes. We wanted to put together an experience. So, we activated the local Ducati clubs. We did a ride. We actually hosted clinics during that time in-between the races about the V4 R motor, and really with the intention of, if we’re going to be here, we’re going to do this right, even if it was just a test.
It went really well. We felt good about all of it. We turned on a lot of people to Ducati that might think we were too good for going to hanging out at the track, which was not the case. So, we were seriously investigating what we’re going to do in 2020 with this.
There’s been talk and consideration of us getting out there and really, and I told Wayne Rainey this —there needs to be people for someone to cheer on. Ducati will come and provide the support in terms of the people to cheer on the riders and to bring the circus, if you will, to bring our show and bring value to the people that come to the event. What we need is we need people out there riding, and that’s what MotoAmerica can help out with. To their credit, they’ve been doing so.
So, between Kyle and other things that are in development, there are always new things in development. You might even see more riders out there in 2020 on the track, and that would help us greatly. If we see that, then it makes sense for us to even increase our presence and our activations. Doing things like customer activations for their own clubs is always wise, but also making the brand accessible to new people through test rides and other initiatives.
So, it’s all under evaluation, but we haven’t made any commitments yet because we’re still figuring out what we’re going to do. There are still a lot of balls in the air.