Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

The pandemic encouraged people to get into riding, a trend that is good for the industry: Ducati India MD

Bipul Chandra on people's growing interest in luxury bikes, Ducati's spate of new launches, and why Indian riders will be spoilt for choice

Published: Jul 31, 2021 09:00:00 AM IST
Updated: Jul 30, 2021 05:05:38 PM IST

The pandemic encouraged people to get into riding, a trend that is good for the industry: Ducati India MDBipul Chandra, managing director, Ducati India 

After a slow 2020, with just three new launches, Ducati has already launched nine new bikes in India this year including the Diavel 1260, Streetfighter V4 and Scrambler Nightshift. Their latest, Multistrada V4, launched on July 22, is the world’s first motorcycle equipped with a front and rear radar rider-assistance system. Besides, the Italian bike manufacturer is all set to release three more new bikes in India by the end of the year—the XDiavel, Monster, and SuperSport—all BS6 (the sixth emission benchmark in reducing pollution levels) compliant.

Ducati, which started operations in India in 2015 with two dealerships in Mumbai and Gurgaon, today has a total of nine dealerships, in Delhi–NCR, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Kolkata, Chennai, and Pune. The last one opened on July 29. Their sales volumes too have returned to the pre-pandemic levels of 2019 and they expect things to only get better.

Bipul Chandra, managing director, Ducati India, reveals that the uptick in demand and sales of premium and luxury bikes, and a growing community of superbikers in India has forced bike manufacturers to take the Indian market more seriously.

In an interview with Forbes India, he discusses how the pandemic encouraged more people to ride, Ducati’s new launches, and why a uniform tax rate across the country makes sense.

After a slow 2020 there has been a lot of action at Ducati India. What have been some of your biggest launches?

After a slow 2020, we entered 2021 with renewed energy and focus. We were aggressive from the onset and announced 12 bike launches in January. In just six months we launched some of the most anticipated and advanced Ducati products and many of our new launches like the Streetfighter V4, Scrambler Nightshift and Multistrada 950S were sold out within a few weeks of their launch.

Ducati posted 43 percent growth in worldwide sales in the first half of this year. So, I can confidently say that 2021 has been pretty good for Ducati.

How is the luxury automobile bike sector faring in India currently? And where does Ducati stand?

The big bike market in India is still a very niche space. Ducati commands a lot of attention and aspiration due to our products’ performance and design. We are segment pioneers in adapting cutting-edge technology in motorcycles, like we did with the inclusion of radars in the newly launched Multistrada V4. We enjoy a healthy percentage of market share when it comes to superbikes, and with the recent launches, we are working towards gaining ground in the adventure tourer and naked categories as well.

The first four months of 2021 were fantastic. There were many key launches from a slew of manufacturers in the luxury segment. On some level, the pandemic also pushed more (bike) enthusiasts to upgrade their rides. A lot of people were frustrated about being stuck in one place. And performance/luxury bikes were a brilliant way to get away for a bit and not depend on vehicles with multiple passengers. These factors really helped re-energise the sector that was under a lot of pressure. Going forward, we only expect more growth, and Ducati is going to be aggressive through and through.

Big bikes (motorcycles with a 400cc engine displacement or higher or premium bikes) offer a way of life, a level of freedom that is addictive, and some really enriching experiences. In the last few years, we have seen more and more customers, of all age groups, warming up to these bikes.

I like to believe that it is the overall sensation of riding a Ducati that makes people want to buy our premium bike. Ducati organises many riding events and helps fellow riders engage with each other to plan different experiential activities. These help form a community.

How has the pandemic changed consumer behaviour when it comes to superbikes?

There was a lot of pent-up demand post the lockdown. When people got the chance to move out, they were not hesitant to spend on things that would make them happy. This includes buying a bike to ride to different places. I have had so many conversations with people who did not have much interest in bikes before the pandemic, let alone superbikes. But the pandemic encouraged them to get into riding. This trend is good for the industry, and I am sure premium brands will follow Ducati and will take the Indian market more seriously. If recent launches by us and other players are anything to go by, different brands will prioritise India and Indian riders will get the bikes they have always dreamed of.

Consumers’ engagement with brands and their feedback will push manufacturers to address their demands and introduce bikes across categories.

Though sales are now picking up, the pandemic brought things to a standstill. What has Ducati’s strategy been through the pandemic?

Saying that 2020 was a difficult period for the industry would be an understatement. Every brand had to put in a lot of hard work to survive the pandemic-induced sales shortage.

We also had to cancel a few launches. What helped us though were our Panigale V2 and the Multistrada 950 S bikes in the BS6 line-up. They kept the sales going.

In January 2021, we launched the popular BS6 Scrambler range and were able to compensate for the losses, in some way. Due to the ongoing situation, most of our advertising is via social media and digital platforms. We have a highly engaged community on Facebook and Instagram, and we use lead-gen advertising [where you can collect data about people who clicked on your ads] to reach out to prospective buyers and book their test rides for when things get better. We also run promoted posts on social media and Google Display Network to amplify our new launches, which has gotten us an exceptional response. We also keep collaborating with sector media and motorcycle influencers to showcase the product to the right audience.

The pandemic encouraged people to get into riding, a trend that is good for the industry: Ducati India MD
Ducati's latest, Multistrada V4, is equipped with a front and rear radar rider-assistance system 

Besides we amplified our digital platform Bike Configurator on our website, which lets a customer accessorise and customise their Ducati the way they like. The new bike is then delivered to the customer exactly the way he/she configured it online.

Talking about sales and delivery, we have implemented easy and safe servicing and delivery process of new bikes at customers’ homes. Last year, we introduced the Ducati Cares programme, which has a detailed SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) related to video-call sales, at home-delivery, sanitisation, social distancing, temperature checks etc. at our showrooms. We are armed with the appropriate means to deal with the challenges the pandemic has thrown at us and are prepared for the third wave.

Where do you see Ducati post-pandemic?

At the moment, it is important for brands to stick together and comply with the Covid-19 rules and regulations. The situation worldwide is still far from normal. Until things improve, we must work hard to grow our business.

Having said that, people’s growing interest in luxury bikes makes me believe that we are on a promising path, and things are looking bright from here on. We are looking at resuming on-ground events and activities to reconnect with our customers at our events such as the Dream Tour (a three-day riding tour). If the situation permits, we would love to launch our bikes at on-ground events as well.

What are the challenges the luxury bike segment faces in India? What do you think needs to change?

One thing that can certainly help the luxury bike segment is the introduction of similar registration taxes across India. Right now, there is a huge difference in taxes of different states, which obviously leads to a difference in on-road prices of bikes, benefitting certain states and dissuading customers from other places to buy a particular bike. Moreover, the ease of doing business in our country must be further improved. For instance, a smoother process at the customs office for manufacturers like us who bring in CBUs (Completely Built-Up) bikes from other countries.

What were your learnings as a leader from the pandemic? In what ways did it make you rethink business and people?

I realised the value of things, people, and time more than I ever did. The pandemic has been a great leveler and helped me identify the important things in life. It taught me live in the moment and stop worrying about the future as there are no guarantees in life.