But news out of Europe after the close of business this week suggests that Volkswagen will, in fact, take a very active role in managing Ducati and that it plans to dramatically redirect the legendary motorcycle company's overall strategy.
|Ducati sold over 200,000 of these puppies, as clip-on motors for bicycles, before it started building its own complete mopeds. Still, it's not obvious that a new Cucciolo will replicate the commercial success of the 'new Beetle'.|
"At Volkswagen, we're very familiar with the strength that comes from an economical, working-class foundation," said Chairman Dr. Martin Winterkorn. "We trace our roots back to the original 'Beetle,' which we produced and sold for 65 years."
Winterkorn told a small room full of hastily-assembled German motoring journalists that Volkswagen has instructed Ducati to refocus its efforts on new version of its original Cucciolo -- the 48cc moped that was Ducati's first motorbike.
"The Italians have, as usual, let passion override reason," Winterkorn continued. "They've thrown good money after bad on a wasteful MotoGP project that, if anything, has weakened their image. As such we've traded Valentino Rossi to Ferrari for a one-time fee of 20 million euros and the rights to Ferrari's booth at the Geneva Auto Show; they have had a great spot right in front of the doors since forever, and we're always stuck in the back corner."
Winterkorn refused to take questions, leaving the German journalists gaping, until they came to their senses and grabbed their phones. One of them managed to get Ducati CEO Gabrielle del Torchio on the phone for a quick reaction.
|"I wish Mercedes-Benz had bought us," said del Torchio|
"This is 1939 all over again," del Torchio frothed. "Il Duce told der Feurher that Italy couldn't possibly be ready for war by September. There's no way that we can have a new Cucciolo ready for the 2014 model year... Sure the old one was one of the most successful Ducati models of all time, but have you seen the new Honda Elite? That thing will kick our culo just as thoroughly as Stoner's kicking Valentino!"
My contact then tried to reach Rossi, but couldn't. Another journalist who claimed to have spoken with Rossi's confidant 'Uccio' told me that while MotoGP's senior posse-member was coy about specifics, he had given the reporter the impression that Winterkorn and Rossi had already discussed the Italian's future before making this shock announcement.