~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Ducati / Audi Update

No surprise.  Audi has done the deed with Ducati.  At right is the front page of the Wolfsburg, Germany newspaper.  Wolfsburg is the home town of VW. 

picture via Frankfurter Rundschau.
And left is what the alligator looks like after he has eaten a tasty Italian.

Some people hate Piech, some fear him, many admire him but he may be the ultimate gear head, one who manages to create whole car lines and buy a  whole motorcycle company because he loves motor vehicles and wishes to make it happen.  

Piech is probably a modern day Soichiro Honda or Count Agusta.   Piech has just been re-elected to the VW Board chairmanship for 5 more years but he'll be 75 years old soon and I wonder how long he can last at the top of his game. And when he's gone, did he plan well enough for the empire he's built to hold together?   If he kicks it and things go down hill for the VW Group, I predict Ducati will be the first to be voted off the island.  Hopefully by then Ducati will be worth enough to fetch a dear price and continue to thrive.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Buy A Ducati or Buy Ducati?

What do you buy yourself for your birthday if you had 73 billion dollars laying around and like Italian motorcycles?  Would you buy a Ducati or just buy Ducati?

Talk has been pretty clear for weeks now the Audi car company (part of the Volkswagen empire) in Germany would buy Ducati just as they bought up Lamborghini back in the late 1990s.   Lamborghini has prospered greatly under Audi's guidance. Italian style and engineering guided with a bit of German discipline and planning pretty much saved Lamborghini from it's never ending fate as the interesting Italian bimbo passed from investment house to bank to investment house.

But why Ducati?  Why would a huge car company want to buy a tiny motorcycle company?  Because some of the top people at VWAG love Ducatis and ride them.  Chief of those people is Dr. Ferdinand Piech, grandson of Dr. Ferdinand Porsche.  Piech is currently Chairman of the Board of VWAG, in the past a the designer of the mighty Porsche 917 race car, was driving force behind Audi's legendary rally cars of the '80s and is avid Ducati rider. Piech is 75 and and slowing down is not in his game plan so why not buy Ducati? 

Below is an excerpt the latest from the German press. This is translated from German using Google Translate so it's a bit rough but you'll get the idea. Also, you'll get some idea of the kind of weight Dr. Piech swings at the top of Volkswagen AG, the parent company of Volkswagen, Audi, Skoda, Bentley, Lamborghini, SEAT, Bugatti, and soon, Ducati:

"A birthday bike brand and a factory
via reuters.com

Wolfsburg (DAPD). The billionaire and the VW [chairman] Ferdinand Piech is on Tuesday, 17 April, 75 years old. The nicest gifts he makes himself well: On Wednesday, the VW supervisory board decided under his leadership is likely to buy the motorcycle manufacturer Ducati, as well as the construction of an Audi plant in North America. Piech is a fan of the sport bikes from Italy. And Audi is on the luxury with the new plant strategy, which he had initiated 25 years ago as the then chairman of VW's subsidiary in Ingolstadt.

Piech arrived in Vienna in 1937 into a wealthy family to the world as the son of lawyer Anton Piech and  Louise Porsche. He is the grandson of the legendary Beetle designer and founder of the sports car manufacturer Porsche, Ferdinand Porsche."

The long and the short of it: Piech is a car and motorcycle guy 110%.  He lives big, thinks big, plans big, and then makes it happen.  In his career he has been unstoppable.  So why not celebrate a little on his 75th birthday and arrange for Audi  to buy his favorite motorcycle company?

I've been around Piech several times, met him once. Top level managers would strut and puff around we underlings, but themselves shrink to the fences when Piech walks on the scene.  He's never loud, boisterous, nor does he even look powerful; he does look like an alligator waiting, waiting, willing to eat whatever pleases him.  People hang on every word he says because he won't say it twice and there's a price to pay for missing what he means.  He can stop a meeting dead in it's tracks by simply saying "Entschuldigen Sie" ("excuse you").   

There is a subtext, I think, to the Audi buys Ducati story and I have no proof, it's just my opinion.  It's not just that Piech wants Ducati, has wanted it since the late '80s, it's that Piech is very much part of the Porsche family while BMW is quietly controlled by the Quandt family.  Both families have a sense of presence in the car industry, a sense of history and competition that extends beyond merely selling good cars and making a profit.   

At the tip top levels of mega-corporations sometimes it's about ego as much as profits, about crushing someone for the sheer, raw power of doing it to an adversary.  The Porsche/Piech family could be seen as adversaries of the Quandt family who controls BMW.

In ye olden times the great and powerful families of Europe would compete by building ever more lavish homes or starting the occasional war.  Such as I understand about Piech's ways, it wouldn't surprise me if he has decided to use Ducati to trample on BMW's motorcycle racing efforts just to prove he can, just to make a statement.

Ducati will be required to earn a profit along the way too, the Germans are not fools.  Business is business.  But when you can make money, make sport, and watch the leader of another company grind his teeth, that last is where the real fun is.

My actual hope is that with some good German fiscal discipline Ducati will stabilize and thrive instead of being passed around amongst rich bankers like an investment tart.  Maybe even there will be enough money and new engineering insight to fix the bucking bronco that is Ducati's current MotoGP bike.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

28th Annual Antique & Classic Motorcycle Show

Indians in a row:  A 1946, a '43, and a '48 Chief.  I wonder about the '43,
that would have been from the war years and I thought all the production
was given over to police and military use. 

 I headed off once again to the annual vintage bike event up in Phoenix.  I missed it last year so this time around I was determined to go and I wasn't disappointed.  There was a nice crop of bikes and many I'd not seen in the past.

This nice Harley was sitting out in the parking lot.  I would look better in my garage but I've not won the lottery.

 The very nice, almost original, 1970 Honda CB750 is a one owner bike.  I spoke to the owner who had left the bike at a local shop known for it's tuning and restoration efforts.  While in the shop they managed to put some serious scratches in the top of the gas tank necessitating a repaint of the tank and side covers.  As the say goes "They can only be original once."

An unusual machine when you stop an look at it.  The above bike isn't just an old Harley turned into a bobber but a 1954 K-model flat track racer turned into a street bike.  Very cool machine with a lot of nice touches combining the cobby look of a racer with the some nice finish and detail work.  See below.

For the Brit bike fans, above is a 1968 BSA 650 Firebird Scrambler.

And now one of those esoteric retro shots I like.  A pair of aging fiberglass saddlebags I saw at the swap meet part of the event.  

If you haven't had enough, the rest of the photos from the day are here.

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