VW’s Emission Scandal Could Re-Shape Harley-Davidson

A potential $1.6B acquisition would dramatically impact two iconic brands.

Setting aside upwards of $18 billion to handle fines and lawsuits stemming from an emissions scandal tends to shake-up a company, even one as large as Volkswagen.

This financial fallout has led the global automotive power to put its high-end line of Ducati motorcycles on the block. Known for their incredible performance and speed, as well as price tags that can easily stretch to over $50,000, Ducati is owned by Lamborghini, which is owned by VW subsidiary Audi. This transaction went down in 2012 when Lamborghini/Audi/VW paid an estimated $1.1 billion for the Italian company.

With Ducati up for sale, speculation is that the leading bid of $1.6 billion could come from Harley-Davidson. News on a possible sale could come as early as next week.

The potential merging of these two iconic brands would be an interesting one. It’s seen as helping Harley meet reported objectives of attracting two million new riders in the U.S., growing international business to 50 percent of the company’s production volume, and launching as many as 100 new bikes within the next 10 years.

However, Harley has unsuccessfully attempted to mesh Italian motorcycles into their offerings before. In the early 1960s Harley worked with Aermacchi to make dirt bikes for motocross enthusiasts. And although those bikes were well made, that style simply didn’t mesh with the Harley brand image.

The company tried again when it bought MV Agusta for $109 million in in 2008, only to essentially give the company back to its original owners two years later after struggling to incorporate racing bikes that ranged from $15k to $120k into their lineup.

Like Harley-Davidson, Bologna-based Ducati is a storied manufacturer with a loyal following. And while both customer bases link their lifestyles very closely with the motorcycles they ride, the similarities would seem to end there. Harley owners are cruisers. Ducati owners are racers.

Another intriguing part of the process is the growing interest of India-based Eicher Motors and Bajaj Auto, who both see acquiring Ducati as a way to expand their global reach.

At the end of the day, it’s probably safe to assume that regardless of Harley’s cache, VW will follow the money.

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