Sergio Canovas Garriga, or ‘Sergi’ as he goes by, is Ducati’s new local boss, and he’s the kind of bloke you just know you’d enjoy smashing winding Spanish roads with and discussing the MotoGP and motorcycles.
“Every meeting in Bologna,” he said to me before we kicked off the interview, “we always discuss the recent MotoGP race before anything else.”
He certainly sounded like the right bloke to run Ducati’s operation down here. He’s not an accountant. He’s not an investment banker. He’s a dedicated motorcyclist, and to my mind, that, above all else, is what anyone running a motorcycle company needs to be.
His eyes sparkle with humour and he speaks with passion, knowledge, and intelligence about his brand and his mission. He laughs easily and often, and after we shook hands, he said: “So you are the person behind Dear George?” I admitted guilt, while he responded with a smile.
I breathed an inward sigh of relief. I never quite know where the Dear George question might go – especially when you’re dealing with Ducati Australia’s new General Manager.
And then it was my turn to ask questions…
Boris: You have been in Asia now since 2013, first with Piaggio in Jakarta, then in Vietnam, and then in India as Managing Director of Ducati there. Now you are in Australia. Do you have a special love affair with this part of the world?
Sergi: Oh yes, definitely. Starting with my wife, who is Vietnamese. I met her in Hanoi. I started in 2010 in Vietnam with the Piaggio Group where we opened up the business unit for the Asia-Pacific region. And I have always been attracted by Asia, so I got the chance to go there and work as the business development manager, and travelled across a few of these countries. After that, we moved to Indonesia also with Piaggio, and then back to Vietnam in 2015. Then Ducati called me for an opportunity in India. I was a Ducati customer before that, and I saw it was a very good opportunity to work for a brand that I really loved. So we opened a subsidiary in India and it has been an incredible journey, the three years that I spent there.
Boris: The Australian motorcycle market might be called challenging at the moment. What specific strategies do you have to sell motorcycles in that market?
Sergi: First of all, Australia and Ducati have a special link in terms of racing. Most of our champions are Australians, and we have a special love for the country. Besides this, the kind of bikes we sell in Australia are normally our top-end bikes, so the customers are very well educated on what they want and what they can take from our brand. With this move into Australia, we wanted to make sure we were closer to the customer; we wanted to shorten the communication between the brand and the customer. And I think this is very easy to do with a subsidiary which is fully owned by Ducati. I think it gives us the chance to really implement and take care of customer satisfaction which is one of the key things – we listen to what the customer wants, and at the same time we are able to implement any strategy that comes from the brand directly to the market. So, a faster response and with a cleaner mission, I would say.
Boris: What changes to the dealer network can the customer expect under your management?
Sergi: Customer satisfaction is key, how we do that is through focused investment in training. We want to make sure first that our dealers are passionate about the brand. This is a factor for us around the world and is very much linked to the brand. It is something I have seen in Australia so I think we have a good starting point. We are going to focus a lot on training to make sure our network is well-educated about our products and our key objectives. The other thing that is very important for us are those values which customers appreciate in Ducati – style, sophistication and performance, and we have now added a new word to those values, which is trust – that they are well represented in the dealerships. That means if you are attracted to a model or by the brand itself, when you go to the dealership, the experience you have is consistent with these values. This is very important and something we will are going to focus on. Because at the end, apart from the marketing activities we are going to do, the real feeling of the customer of having Ducati directly here, is through the shopping experience. It is very important we focus on that at the dealership level.
Boris: Is Australia a unique market, and if so, what makes it so unique?
Sergi: Ducati and Australian have a very strong link, you go to the Bologna factory and you talk about Australia, and everybody wants to come here, to this subsidiary – they love it. You know, they love Troy Bayliss, they love Casey Stoner. Take a look at last year when we did the Race of Champions, Troy’s bike raised the highest bid at auction. So even though he’s not an active racer any more [at the world level], you can imagine how strong the link is between Australia and Ducati. And I felt it here because every time somebody ask me “Where are you working?” normally if I don’t mention the brand in the first answer, they immediately ask: “Ducati?”
Boris: Ducati has many models of motorcycles across many different niches, and indeed has class-leading motorcycles in some, but not so many Learner bikes. Just the Monster 659. Are there any plans to include more Learner-Approved bikes in the range?
Sergi: The Learner Approved segment is a very interesting market. It gives you the chance to bring new customers into the Ducati experience. It is something I’ve seen here since I have arrived. The Monster has been a very successful model, and also we see the customers of the Monster often jump to the next model up after a few years. That is a good learning experience for us, and it is something I am also discussing with Italy, to try and explore the possibility to bring new models into the Learner segment.
Boris: Do you think customer loyalty to a brand is as strong as it once was, or are people now more likely to listen to their wallet instead of their heart?
Sergi: I think it is even more important today. In our case we know the best way to convince somebody to buy a Ducati is for them to try it. The experience and the feelings you get with that, from our perspective, no other brand can provide. The important thing for us, as our CEO [Claudio Domenicalli] said not long ago, we do not sell transportation, we sell entertainment. In-line with this we will be providing a lot of experiences to our customers. Like reasons to ride a Ducati. That is something, from a marketing perspective, we want to implement here and provide all kinds of experiences for customers who want to try our bikes in the correct environment.
Boris: Australia is a country of vast distances. And while most of the population is in the cities, there are lots of motorcyclists who live some distance from the centres. Does Ducati plan on expanding its dealer network in any way to deal with these people?
Sergi: Australia is indeed very big. In fact, when I checked it on the map just to have some reference from my side, if I compare for example the distance from Perth to Sydney, it is like going from the Spanish Canary Islands to St Petersburg in Russia. It is a big market, but it is also very concentrated. So, in terms of coverage, we are OK. Because at the end you need to make sure that any investor or partner will make a return. You cannot compromise the experience of a customer if there is not enough potential in one area. So I don’t see is a big issue in Australia, because the market is concentrated, we cover approximately 90 per cent of the market and cover it quite well.
Boris: The motorcycle industry, certainly in Australia, is in a state of great change at the moment. I hear rumours of brands partnering with car importers to expand the dealer network and make it easier for potential and existing motorcycle customers to access the bikes. Does Ducati have any plans in that regard, say with either Audi or Volkswagen? We do not have any Lamborghini dealers I know of.
Sergi: That is a very interesting question. As a part of Audi we have a lot of common values. We have had some good experiences in other parts of the world of integration between our brands. I was just discussing three weeks ago with my colleague in Brazil, who applied this strategy of having Ducati inside an Audi dealership and it was very successful. What I have to tell you is that in Australia, at least since the beginning of this new operation we are going to have here, there has been a lot of interest from potential investors, which we are definitely evaluating.
Boris: There is a big push from many bike manufacturers to address the huge and expanding Asian and Indian market by creating smaller capacity motorcycles. Ducati has always been a premium, aspirational brand, and building bikes for the masses is not in its DNA. Will economic reality change this?
Sergi: There is an important thing here. I think that making this move really needs to be well thought out. And what I see in the markets is that most of the brands that went down this path, partnered with somebody else to make a motorcycle and then branded it as their own. In this case you have the risk of losing the brand quality. I can tell you that all our bikes, all our engines, are made in Ducati, by Ducati. And I think that is a key point for us. We design and we produce our products and then we take them to market. I think that is one of our key strengths, which, in the current situation with small bikes, would put at risk the Ducati DNA. Of course, it is a very interesting market and we have been analysing this deeply and having our own thoughts, but so far, I cannot tell you we are going this way. If we were going into this market, we would have to do it the Ducati way. And if you look at Ducati maybe 15 years ago everything was about superbikes and Monsters, but we have since entered into seven different segments, but in each segment the DNA of Ducati is there.
Boris: Have you had much of a chance to ride around and see much of Australia yet? And if so, what did you take to ride on?
Sergi: I rode the scrambler 1100 in Sydney when I arrived and was looking and exploring the suburbs where I might live, and it was a very good experience. And also, the Multistrada that I rode to Phillip Island for the WSBK. I was supposed to be in New Zealand this week, but due to this coronavirus I had to postpone. I was planning to ride a Diavel for that weekend.
Boris: Is there anything you’d like to add to what we’ve talked about? Any secret Rossi emails? Bottles of Lorenzo’s tears I can sell on eBay?
Sergi: [Laughs] I think it is important to mention I would like to bring some, let’s say optimism to the market. If I put aside the coronavirus, where we don’t know what’s going to happen at this point, we came here after an analysis of the opportunities in Australia. The first thing you hear is that the market is going down, and it’s true. But it is also true when you go into the details of the market segments, there are segments which are growing. We have something to offer in each of these segments and we are going to focus on that. It means we are planning to increase our market-share even more. But we are also planning to enter into segments where we haven’t been present so much, or haven’t yet taken the full opportunity within, and we are going to push on that. One example is the new Streetfighter. The Streetfighter is something that has been very well received in Australia and I think using the platform of the V4 has changed completely what Ducati is, and it is giving us a huge opportunity. And we can see with the orders we have – not only in Australia but worldwide – it is a success. Yesterday we received the first new V2 and we are really, really confidant in this model. I think it is also interesting to see despite the global downturn, there are always opportunities to grow. You just have to make sure you offer the right product and experience to your customers.
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Boris is a writer who has contributed to many magazines and websites over the years, edited a couple of those things as well, and written a few books. But his most important contribution is pissing people off. He feels this is his calling in life and something he takes seriously. He also enjoys whiskey, whisky and the way girls dance on tables. And riding motorcycles. He's pretty keen on that, too.