With millions traversing Southeast Asia on two wheels, Ducati’s Marco Biondi says that premium motorbike manufacturers are eyeing the region with interest
From Jakarta to Ho Chi Minh City and beyond, the tangled mass of motorcycles on the region’s city streets is a familiar sight. The two-wheeled vehicles are omnipresent in Southeast Asia where, according to Pew Research Centre, more than eight in ten people in Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia own one.
While most drivers opt for a more economical option, usually a standard Suzuki or distressed Daelim – seeing them as a cheap and easy way to get around – Italian motorbike manufacturer Ducati is hoping to lure more riders to their premium machines as incomes continue to rise.
In a demonstration of its confidence in the region, Ducati opened a factory in Thailand five years ago, the first of its kind outside Italy. Most recently, the firm launched a dedicated showroom in Phnom Penh in December, a move that Marco Biondi, Ducati’s regional director for Asia, said would have ideally come earlier. “We think it’s a big opportunity – they are riding bikes everywhere, but of course with small engine displacement… so we wanted to start up as soon as possible even though at the beginning we don’t expect to sell unlimited bikes,” he said.
In Cambodia, there are more than 2.3 million motorcycles on the road today, up from 43,000 in 1990, according to the Ministry of Public Works and Transport. But as those who have witnessed the congestion on the capital’s streets can attest, cars are becoming increasingly popular among the emergent middle- and upper-classes.
Biondi said Ducati is playing the long game. The aim is to encourage people who are considering upgrading to a car to “think about buying a real motorbike as well”.
“This is one of our key jobs to be done here, because we know that they use the bikes more as transport here,” he said. “Once people go up into the middle classes they buy a car. We don’t want to replace the car, what we really want is to offer them a premium bike to go alongside a car.” Biondi added that the firm was targeting those who might want to purchase a motorbike in order to set themselves apart from standard vehicle users.
The company has undoubtedly had success with this strategy in Asia. Ducati sold 45,000 bikes globally in 2014, a number that jumped by 10,000 over the past 12 months. Asia accounted for 6,500 sales in 2015, a figure that is predicted to rise to 8,000 this year.
“If you compare that with the growth of the rest of the world, it’s much more intense,” Biondi said. “There’s big growth here in Southeast Asia. The best performing country for sure is Thailand, where the market is more mature… Many other players, such as BMW and Triumph, are coming in as well. And we see huge potential in markets such as Vietnam.”
Yet a Ducati motorbike is a serious investment – an entry-level Scrambler, assembled in the Thailand factory, goes for a minimum of $13,000. A top-of-the-range bike, shipped from Italy, costs $64,000.
With such high price tags on their products, premium motorcycle brands must work hard to build a loyal following in Southeast Asia, something Ducati tries to do by hosting learn-to-ride and safety events, as well as track days for more experienced riders in Thailand.
According to Biondi, this is a different strategy to that employed in Europe, where motorcycle enthusiasts are already familiar with the brand and the focus is on holding racing events. Nonetheless, the motivation for buying a high-end bike is starting to converge across Europe and Southeast Asia. As Biondi said: “It’s not so much about performance but about being seen. It’s becoming more of a lifestyle thing to own a motorbike.