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Volkswagen buying motorcycle icon Ducati?

Volkswagen's premium car division, Audi, is considering buying Ducati for its light-engine know-how, according to a report. But Volkswagen, Ducati are not commenting.

By Jan Schwartz and Jennifer ClarkReuters / March 17, 2012

People are watching the futuristic power cruiser Diavel from Italian bike maker Ducati at the "Motorraeder" spring bike fair in Dortmund, Germany, earlier this month. A report suggests Audi, the premium car line of Volkswagen, is in talks to buy Ducati.

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German carmaker Audi is in talks to buy Ducati for its lightweight engine know-how, its racetrack pedigree and the distinctive sound and styling of its motorcycles.

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Two sources familiar with the matter said Audi, the premium cars arm of Europe's top carmaker Volkswagen , was in discussions with the private equity group that controls the Italian firm about a purchase.

A successful deal would extend Audi's long-standing rivalry with BMW to superbikes, and add expertise about high-revving light engines to VW's engineering portfolio, which ranges from cars through heavy trucks to ship engines.

For Audi, whose Ingolstadt headquarters has become a key research and development center for lightweight fuel saving technologies, Ducati's engine technology could add a new development dimension.

Audi is conducting due diligence and a decision about a purchase could come by mid April, one of the sources said.

Volkswagen, Audi and Ducati's main shareholder, Investindustrial, declined comment.

Ducati was founded in 1926, and over the past 60 years it scored 17 manufacturer's World Championship titles and most recently won the 2011 World Superbike Championship title.

On the streets, Ducati counts actors Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt among clients for its distinctive steel-framed machines with the loud, barking engines.

Ferdinand Piech, Volkswagen's current chairman and grandson of VW Beetle creator Ferdinand Porsche, is himself a Ducati owner.

"I LIKE EVERYTHING RED"

Last month, Investindustrial said it was looking for a "world class industrial partner" for Ducati, to help fund overseas expansion.

The Financial Times cited Investindustrial's chairman Andrea Bonomi saying it was looking to sell, and in a report on Tuesday it put the price at about 850 million euros ($1.1 billion) of which 800 million would be acquired debt. Last year a stock market listing for the business was mooted, according to the paper.

Investindustrial is still in talks with other potential investors, including sovereign wealth funds, a person familiar with the matter said. Potential industrial partners include India's Hero MotoCorp.

A formal auction process is not underway, another person familiar with the matter said.

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