How the 1098 Saved Ducati

In 2007 the future looked bleak for Ducati. With debts in excess of £30 million and with a product range that simply wasn’t selling, it was quite possible that another famous Italian marque was about to go bust. And then along came the 1098

In 1995, while Carl Fogarty was ripping up the world’s circuits on the 916 and winning his second WSB championship in a row, Ducati was in the shit. Ailing companies within the Castaglioni group, the then current owners, were sucking money from Ducati and a year later American venture capitalists Texas Pacific Group waded in with a load of cash and saved the day.

With fresh investment and new managers Ducati started to earn money again. Now jump forward 10 years to December 2005, only a month after the Desmosedici RR was unveiled, and the major shareholding was transferred to Italian investment company Investindustrial. With an amazing new roadbike on its way and the company back in Italian hands, from the outside everything looked rosy at Ducati.

Except that it wasn’t rosy. Far from it. Ducati was going through one of its bleakest periods ever. In September 2006 they announced a loss for the year of £3.2m and worse still, an incredible debt of £32.5m. It seemed that the fat lady was warming up for a big Italian-style funeral. But then just one year later in 2007, Ducati posted its part-year results in September.

You wouldn’t believe the numbers came from the same company. Instead of a £3.2m loss Ducati made a net profit of £12.2m from sales of £224.2m, up a whopping 44% on the previous year. What’s more, Ducati’s managers could now walk past the bank without wearing heavy disguise because from being deeply in the red the company now had £6.6m in its account. How did this incredible turn around in fortunes come about? One principal reason: the new 1098 superbike.

Click next to continue

Superbike saviour

“It was pretty desperate then,” explains journalist and industry expert Roger Willis. “Workers were laid off for a couple of months at the end of 2006 which caused knock-on problems with the unions. New bikes were running off the production lines and gathering dust in dealerships, and the dealers in turn were put under pressure to keep a stock of new bikes that just weren’t attracting customers.”

Ducati had to cut production, just as Harley-Davidson had to do. It’s called the economics of supply and demand. “Ducati wouldn’t have gone bust and disappeared,” says Willis, “it’s such an iconic company that the banks or the Italian government would have eventually stepped in.”

Why was the maker of some of the world’s sexiest bikes so deep in the fertiliser? Well for starters Ducati’s flagship superbike at the time wasn’t very sexy: the 999. It may have been more comfortable than the previously iconic 996 and easier to ride fast, but it looked bad. Sales were feeble and dealers had unsold 999s sitting around like museum exhibits.

The Multistrada was a niche model and didn’t have buyers beating down dealer doors, while the evergreen Monster had been spread thin with too many different model variants, and sales were down 20% that year. Ducati needed a two-wheeled saviour, and it was around the corner in the shape of the 1098.