Can the Bar and Shield Take On the Duc?

“It’ll never happen,” they said. “The market is too soft and they’re still snakebit from the last Italian sportbike acquisition,” they said. Well, it’s starting to look like they could be wrong, because the Harley-Davidson looks like it’s about to make an offer on the $1.6-billion-plus Ducati marque after all. Sure, the official word from the factory representatives is that they don’t comment on speculation, which means, of course, that the ink is probably still wet on the proposal.

Continue reading for my take on the Harley acquisition speculation.

What’s The Buzz?

2015 - 2016 Harley-Davidson Dyna Fat Bob Exterior
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2017 Ducati 1299 Superleggera
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I have to agree with the naysayers on at least one point; it almost seems as though the MoCo is having a major case of amnesia here. The factory bought into the sportbike sector not too long ago when it acquired the MV Agusta marque back in ’08. It promptly abandoned that effort and went so far as to pay the former owner to take it back. Yeah, it was only a single Euro, but it’s the principle of the thing that matters, not the details.

Be that as it may, we are seeing strong indications that Harley is going to give the crotch-rocket segment another shot. India’s Bajaj Auto looks to be one of the main competitors in this race, and as always, another car manufacturer may try to snap it up. Right now, the Audi division at Volkswagen holds the Ducati name, and since it’s still fashionable for car makers to own motorcycle manufacturers, it’s definitely within the realm of possibility for another cagemaker to make a move. We even have a gag commercial from a Portland, Oregon Ducati dealer that turned out to be a bit prophetic. It touts an Indigogo crowd-funding effort to raise the approximate $1.67 billion needed to buy the name, but is an obvious gag at best, and a springboard for a possible exhibitionist at worst. Probably some combination thereof.

What Does It Mean?

2017 Harley-Davidson Road King & Road King Special
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2014 Ducati 1199 Panigale S High Resolution Exterior
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What would Harley gain by this? Plenty. First of all, it would benefit from all of Ducati’s R&D, and perhaps finally would start producing bikes with variable rider modes, traction control and adjustable suspension. Seriously, as much as I love the Bar and Shield, I think it is time to join the rest of the world as far as electronic wizardry goes, and having that tech delivered to Harley as part of a buyout rather than going through the R&D process sounds like a win-win situation. It won’t be cheaper to get it that way, but it will be faster. I can see both the touring sector and Harley’s high-performance CVO line benefiting from the above, though I don’t see much benefit in crossed technology for Ducati. Continued survival would be Duc’s main benefit if such a partnership were to be made.

Interesting times, to be sure. Personally, I hope the MoCo buys it up and borrows from Ducati’s electronic excellence. There are significant gaps in Harley’s repertoire, and this will go a long way toward filling them. Heck, maybe Ducati holds the secret to beating the Indian Motorcycle “Wrecking Crew” on the flat track, you never know.

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