Ducati North America CEO Jason Chinnock: Widening Our Brand Appeal, Remaining True To Our Core

Ducati is among the most coveted motorcycle brands in the world. For decades the Italian brand’s sleek styling, aggressive exhaust notes and successful racing campaigns earned it the coveted “Ferrari of motorcycles” description. This description proved particularly ironic when Ferrari’s chief rival, Lamborghini, purchased Ducati in 2012, as authorized by Lamborghini’s parent company, Volkswagen AG.

Concerns that Volkswagen’s ownership would dilute Ducati’s passion and purity have proven false. In fact, Ducati enjoyed record global sales last year, with U.S. sales up 32 percent to just over 9,000 units. Jason Chinnock has served as Ducati North America’s CEO since 2016, though he started with the company in 2004 after working at a Ducati dealership in Ft. Collins, Colorado.

Jason has played a key role in the successful launch of multiple new bikes as Ducati’s model line has widened. While superbikes and naked street bikes have a long history with the brand, today’s Ducati includes the the street cruiser Diavel, the dual-purpose Scrambler, the multi-purpose Hypermotard, and the Multistrada premium adventure bike. Ducati’s newest motorcycles include the all-new Desert X, inspired by Dakar desert racing, plus the latest iterations of the Panigale, Multistrada, and Streetfighter.

Jason feels the brand’s ability to produce a wide array of motorcycles, all of which stay true to Ducati’s core values, is driving today’s growth and success. We spoke with Jason about what’s changing within the motorcycle community, where he sees Ducati’s greatest opportunities, and how the company is dealing the the supply chain issues impacting every global manufacturing company. We also ask Jason which motorcycle models he loved growing up.

Forbes: How has the motorcycling industry evolved over the past 20 years, and how have these changes impacted Ducati?

Jason Chinnock: First, culturally, motorcycling has become more inclusive, and there are less “cliques” among motorcyclists. There’s still a diversity of brands and motorcycle types, but motorcyclists are realizing they don’t need to be fragmented into these subgroups. We’re actually all just motorcyclists. Commercially, we’re seeing a return to motorcycling. The pandemic hit and gave a lot of people cabin fever, and they realized that motorcycling was a really healthy outdoor option for getting outside. And people also got an urge to live life, with motorcycling being a bucket list item for a lot of them. And if they’re going to do something that’s a bucket list item they ar

e going to do it right, and Ducati has alway been at the top of the consideration and aspiration set. We benefitted greatly from that.

Finally, there’s been a lot new technologies that have been adapted for motorcycling to help improve the safety of the rider. And in terms of Ducati we take safety very seriously, and being part of the Volkswagen group we’ve been able to take a lot of automotive advancements, as well as MotoGP and Superbike racing development, to enhance the safety of our production motorcycles and their riders. Yet the differentiation for us is we do this without anesthetizing that emotional experience you get from riding a motorcycle, and I think that’s part of our secret.

Forbes: Where do you see the biggest opportunities for Ducati?

Jason Chinnock: Our brand awareness if very high, though unaided it is fairly low. Meaning if you ask a motorcyclist to name a motorcycle brand and only 1 out of every 4 people named Ducati. But aided awareness, meaning ask them if they know Ducati, and 3 out of 4 say, “Oh yes, Ducati.” So that tells me that people know who are brand is but we weren’t a genuine consideration for a lot of people outside those that are in this core audience. We’ve always been an aspirational brand, where there was an appreciation and respect for us, but a lot people thought Ducati didn’t build a motorcycle for them. People think it’s a cool brand that builds sport bikes, that’s the general assumption.

We knew we had a broader product offering but we had to address the misconceptions of our brand. And we’ve been working on this tirelessly. I use the example of the Mulitstrada V4, which has the lowest cost of ownership and the highest technical content of any motorcycle in its category. Yet with that bike we’ve not compromised the things we’re known for, and what people aspire to when buying our brand, which is the performance and the style and the character that’s synonymous with Ducati. We’re going to continue to do this, which makes our brand more accessible and approachable for those that had previously appreciated us from a distance. Now we’ve got the new Desert X coming up, that will allow us to open up new ridership for new people to come to our brand.

Forbes: Does Ducati have electrification plans?

Jason Chinnock: Our electric era for Ducati has begun. We have signed off to be the sole supplier for the bikes in the 2023 FIM Enel MotoE World Cup electric motorcycle series. It’s a single make series, and we prototype has already been unveiled and tested on the track. In fact we just launched a video showcasing the prototype. The purpose is to understand and develop this technology at the highest level, in a rolling lab situation so that the technology we develop will ensure we provide that experience that people expect from Ducati. We don’t make a practical sewing machine that goes from point A to point B. It’s gotta feel like a Ducati.

Part of that concern is that you don’t lose the brand’s identity. Inevitably you’re going to lose the sound — it’s going to be a different sound, there’s no question about that. But the challenge is to make a motorcycle worthy of wearing the Ducati badge. That means the size, the weight, the economy of the batteries, the practical application of how to integrate into different charging networks. This MotoE gives us an opportunity to support the R&D of the product, also the physiological evolution of the technology and chemistry. Because we know, in the world of motorcycling in order for a motorcycle to be able to deliver an experience that is commensurate with an internal combustion engine it’s going to be really heavy. These are the challenges that we’re facing, but we also know there’s this opportunity for us.

Forbes: What are the biggest challenges facing Ducati right now, and do the global supply chain issues play a part in these?

Jason Chinnock: The reality is that we have supply chain challenges, mainly with our component suppliers related to what everyone is experiencing with the chip shortage. And having a product that’s very rich in technical content has resulted in some delays in the production of some models. I did some business with our dealer network last month and there was this implied idea that with the unprecedented demand we’ve had in the past 12-18, demand we have not experienced in many years, it was compounded with the supply chain challenges.

Thankfully we saw this on the horizon, and we as an organization made a big shift by investing into tools that help us have a more accurate understanding of what the demand really is and how to best manage that. We understand the entire customer journey from inquiry to their desire to purchase. This helped us shift the business model from walking into a Ducati dealership to pick a bike off the floor, that may or may not be what the customer really wants, to pre-ordering a new model and managing expectations on timing. Of course there’s always going to be people that want something yesterday, but the American consumer culture has evolved as well. I think we has consumers now understand that sometime you do have to wait a little bit to get what you really want. And as long as you wait you get an experience that’s commensurate with a premium product, then the customer is generally happy and satisfied.

Forbes: What motorcycles have impacted you most growing up as an enthusiast?

Jason Chinnock: I was just happy to get anything under my butt to ride. Anything. Because I was not allowed to ride a motorcycle when I grew up. In fact I would sneak away to ride. I had a friend who had a Sachs Foxy GT moped that I would take out in the desert and I would ride it like a dirt bike. And that inspired me as a motorcyclist just because of this concept of freedom. But you could put anything in front of me and I was just excited to be on it, that’s just what happened to be beneath me at the time.

From there, motorcycling was romanticized for me through film, with stuff like Mad Max. And I ended up with a Kawasaki KZ750, which was the poor man’s version of the KZ100, which was in that movie, because it has this fierce attitude, which to me was part of motorcycling. There is performance and handling, but there’s this attitude and I always gravitated toward that. And then progressing beyond that is where it got into performance for me, and for performance I would probably say Honda RC30. That was a period of time when that brand was doing it for the love.

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