Ducati's Big Gun in the Sales Battle
With its Monster 696 Ducati is aiming at big sales from those who want the Italian lines but don't need the top-shelf performance and pricetag from the 1098.
If you wanted to know just how important the 696 Monster is to the future of Ducati you needed to look at the suits. The suits and the ties. Well, okay the suits, the ties - and the $300 haircuts.
There were three distinct groups gathered in Barcelona for the world launch of the all new Ducati Monster
696. At one end were the journos. Some looking like illegal immigrants trying to sneak into Spain, many sporting freebie clothing gifted by kind, or merely gullible, manufacturers - and a few smart, casual.
Then there were masses of Ducati
employees - all sharp and trendy in Ducati corporate clothing - eyes darting, damp hands tense and truly hyped for the start of the big game. And finally, there were the suits and designer ties and immaculate haircuts of the real players. The Ducati financiers, representatives of the city of Barcelona and, incredibly, Ducati had even wheeled out the Italian Ambassador to Spain to speak, very convincingly as it happened, of the Bologna factory's sterling qualities.
All that we lacked was Luciano Pavarotti to sing the Ducati corporate anthem and there would have been a full hand of cards. Come to think of it, probably the ONLY reason Pavarotti wasn't there was because he is dead. Otherwise, Ducati would have certainly wheeled him out.
This was a major occasion - and Ducati wanted us journos to know it.
If you think that the future of Ducati lies in Casey Stoner
, or the next hyper performance bike on from the 1098R or even another batch of Desmosedici
s you would be wrong. Completely and utterly misinformed. All these iconic motorcycles are the very blood and soul of Ducati - but the motorcycle which holds the key to the factory's future is the Monster.
In style and performance, the Monster 696 does exactly what it needs to do, give owners a beautiful machine that is also capable out on the weekend joy rides.
Consider these stats for a moment. Typically, Ducati produce around 30,000-35,000 motorcycles a year. This is a tiny, quantum mechanics small, number of motorcycles for a factory of Ducati's status and an amazing credit to the Bologna girls and boys.
Since its launch in 1993, Ducati have sold over 200,000 Monsters - a figure which dwarfs every other Ducati product. At one time, 60% of Ducati's production was Monsters. The new 696 is that important! Better still, the initial Monster was cheap and easy to build and has remained so during its long life. This is mainly good news for Ducati - but with just a touch of difficulty too.
When Ducati produces the 1598 RS-extra-plus-super, or whatever, its buyers will not only accept every new trick which Ducati can throw into the package but they will positively demand them. Suddenly, 180 hp will become the sort of power fit only for scooters or beginning riders on their first day of tuition. Now, real men will need 220 hp or whatever the magic number is for the 2012 riding season.
By contrast, Monster owners want to own a Monster. Technical specification is of far less importance than paying for, and getting, a Monster. In fact, Ducati's launch slogan of, "Full Stop - Fast Forward", was rather clever and summed the job up very nicely.
The new Monster is supposed to be the Armani/Diesel/Gucci/Prada of the bike world. A Ducati not only for the motorcyclist but also for the urban cool. The reason for this new fondness for fashion is obvious. There are an awful lot more potential customers for an urban fashion item than there are who want to sell their first-born child in order to own a Desmosedici.
They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but what kind of crotchety beholder would find the sleek Monster 696 an ugly beast?
Gabriele del Torchio, Ducati's CEO, actually made this point. There are Ducatisti and Monsteristi, he noted - and there may not even be much of a crossover between the two. The 30-year-old Marketing Manager, who skis, windsurfs and watches soccer might well add a Monster to his portfolio of toys whereas he will probably never go near a 1098.
The good news for us who are fat, bald, wrinkly, and therefore desperately uncool, but who really do like motorcycles, is that the 696 is actually an extremely fine motorcycle. For my part, if someone wants to buy a 696 as a fashion accessory and only ride it around town, then why not? They may well be missing out on much of what the bike has to offer, but you pays your money and you takes your choice.
So Ducati's problem was to produce a Monster for the 21st Century which looked, felt and performed like a Monster from the 20th Century - only more so. It was a harder task than one might imagine at first sight.
The overwhelming first impression of the new Monster is that it is a 100% pure, thoroughbred Monster. It's not an Aprilia Shiver or Yamaha MT01 or Triumph Speed Triple but totally and utterly Monster. It is also drop dead gorgeous. Although the 696 is the entry door to Ducati's world, with a retail selling price in the neighborhood of $8,500, it does not feel or look like a budget-priced special. On the contrary, it could be legitimately argued that the 696 is one of the most beautiful Ducatis since the 916 - and it is infinitely more attractive than the old Monster.
Do you have to be a mod 20- or 30-something with a full head of hair to appreciate the Monster 696? Our test rider, who is neither, says no!
Although taste is very personal, I just loved the fluidity of the bike's lines with the gas tank oozing into the seat and then curving onwards to the rear cowling. The only element which grates is the gray bar which splits the headlamp horizontally. This looks like an afterthought and makes a stylistically extremely clean front end look untidy.
The launch colors were matte black, shiny black, red and a sort of metallic white, which Ducati calls Pearl. The red is stunning, closely followed by the metallic white. The shiny black is okay if you like black. Only ride the matte black 696 if you win one in a free-to-enter competition.
If you do win a 696, changing it to a decent color might not be that much of a problem. The gas tank is not really the tank at all but a quickly detachable cover covering the fuel cell and air box. Remove this, the front fender and rear seat cowl, and you can have an instant bike change. In fact, as we speak, Ducati is planning a range of accessories, including chrome bodywork, just so that owners can individualize their bikes.
Almost, but not all, of the bike gives an impression of quality. The trellis frame remains and this is bolted to an aluminum subframe from which the double-sided swingarm hangs. More of its performance in a moment but in terms of aesthetics it looks wonderful.