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Has time been kind to the Ducati 999 or was it just ahead of its time?

Discussion in 'Motorcycle Talk' started by beansbaxter, Dec 2, 2009.

  1. How the Ducati 999 nearly killed Ducati

    Ducati is a raging success story combining an iconic brand, a rich competition history and accessible V-twin performance draped in gorgeous Italian design. But not so long ago, Ducati was in trouble. In 2006, the company was saddled with debt and faced flagging sales as a result of it’s first Superbike commercial failure, the controversial Ducati 999 first introduced in 2003.

    A New Direction In 2003

    Ducati introduced it’s self titled ‘revolutionary’ 999. It combined the testastretta (’narrow head’) 998c engine from the 998 in a much more streetable package featuring adjustable seat and peg position aimed at criticism that Ducati Superbikes were too uncomfortable to ride on the street. So far, so good. In a departure for the company the 999 replaced utilized a double-sided swingarm and an ugly automotive style exhaust canister under the seat. However the subject of an outcry from the Ducatisti was the styling. Penned by Pierre Terblanche, the lean styling was reportedly modeled after a 1920’s locomotive. In any event it was a radical departure from the curves of the Tamburini designed 916 series that was so adored. Although most reviews argued the bike was superior as a motorcycle to it’s evocative predecessor, most agreed the styling was definitely an acquired taste at best, downright ugly at worst. The punters agreed and sales of the 999 reflected a bike that was very good but simply didn’t incite the passion of owners. Looking back Ducati’s Claudio Domenicali agrees:

    “You should open your garage and always be taken aback at the sight of your Ducati. We can’t afford to make a badly designed bike. Other manufacturers might be able to get away with it but we can’t.”

    Terbalnche was panned by all manner of armchair critics although ironically he had also styled perhaps the most beautiful of modern Ducatis, the Supermono. Nevertheless whilst the 916 through 998 range was the most attractive sportsbike on the market at the time, the arrival of the 999 passed the mantle of most beautiful to the very stylish Yamaha R1. Sacrilege!!

    A Company in Trouble

    Not surprisingly the company’s results suffered. After reaching sales of 413 million Euros in 2002, sales fell 6% in 2003 with the Superbike range down 26%, the new Multistrada the only bright light. The following year the already poor 999 sales were flat. With sales falling in 2005 by 36%, a reduction at least in part attributable to the discontinuation of the 998 Final Edition, the company suffering a 41 million Euro loss. Clearly a substantial upgrade of the bike for the 2005 year had not been able to sway the opinion of potential customers. Management put into place a recovery plan for 2006 through 2010 designed to reposition the company towards higher end motorcycles that enjoyed better margins.

    Ducati USA CEO, Michael Lock speaking about Pierre Terblanche and the lack of success with the 999 range:

    “Well, the Superbike is not traditionally our largest volume seller, but it’s certainly our biggest earner. So if you wobble on the Superbike family, not for a year or two, you wobble for four years on sales, it disproportionately hits the earnings of the company. Monsters sell fantastically every year, but they’re relatively low-margin bikes for us. The Superbikes should be high-margin bikes. So yeah, I think you’re correct in saying that the management environment that brought that bike to market affected other things in the company as well, which all contributed towards a lack of confidence on the stock market, and our parent company at the time, our controlling stock interest TPG, very driven by the numbers, and if the Superbike’s not delivering the numbers, that creates a tension and anxiety in the company.”

    By 2006, sales had flattened overall but the Superbike family dropped another 22%. Luckily Ducati had shown a new bike at the EICMA Milan show in November, a bike that received wide public acclaim according to the factory. That bike was a new flagship Superbike that would bring the company back towards it’s 916 roots with a return of some signature styling elements, most notably the single sided swing-arm and dual underseat exhausts. That bike was of course the Ducati 1098.

    A Step Forward that Harks to the Past

    Although the styling was clearly derivative and even, dare I say it, more than a little oriental in places, reviewers and customers loved it. In the USA the price was reduced compared with the 999 and the fact that the 1,099cc, 160 bhp engine comfortably out powered the exotic $30,000 999R for just half the price made the bike very compelling for the Ducatisti and many Japanese Sportbike owners too. There was an immediate impact on the company’s fortunes. In 2007, the first year the Ducati 1098 was on sale, sales rose 30% and the company rebounded from a loss of 8.5 million Euros to a profit of 13.3 million. The new design was a mjoar driver of the turn around. Domenicali again:

    “Since the 1098 we’ve completely changed the way we design bikes. In 2005 ago we opened a design studio at the factory with all the equipment that you need including clay modelling facilities. In the past all Ducatis were designed outside of the factory, which can present certain problems as engineers and designers have different requirements.”

    Success Renewed

    The rest is history and we now have the little brother, Ducati 848 and the homologation special, the 180bhp 1098R. This year the range was upgraded to include a 170bhp, 1198cc powerplant. With the benefit of time, the styling of the 999 series has grown on many riders.

    Revisionists that we are, many riders on forums now proclaim a love for the 999 that overshadows the more modern machines arguing that the bike was simply ahead of it’s time, but facts are facts. When the 999 was new, where were these fans? They certainly weren’t buying. So despite the 1098/1198 being a little too derivative yes, a little Japanese, maybe, and a little lower in quality, quite possibly – we should all give a little thumbs up to the bike that pulled Ducati out of it’s tailspin.

    Has time been kind to the 999 or was it just ahead of its time?

    Source: Ducati News Today
  2. FireDave

    FireDave Banned Camp

    Ahead of it's time.

  3. I think a combination of both! 8)
  4. I prefer the 999 to the 1098. A better bike all around. (Well, except for looks.)
  5. I fucking hate the 999. Piece of shit.
  6. I've always thought the 999 was one of the best looking motorcycles, ahead of it's time coming from the aged 916/996/998 look, which I liked too.
  7. +1 :mfclap:
  8. DGA

    DGA Moderator

    I love the way 999 looked. I really like the flat black look on those bike as well. It was too bad that it was so expensive. Oh, SSSA would look pretty cool on those 999s.
  9. Are_Six

    Are_Six Moderator Staff Member

    The 999 was a great bike, but needed some changes by 2005. The 999 came out in 2003 and dominated WSBK that year and in 2004. In 2003, 9 of the top 10 WSBK's were Duc's. 2004 had a similar result. But 2005 and 2006 showed the 999 getting old.

    I think the looks were never that bikes strong suit. It was alright, but it came between what I think will go down as the 2 best looking Ducati's, the 998 and the 1098.

    Maybe I'm a little Biased though...



    Last edited: Dec 3, 2009
  10. I think the market is pretty forgiving.

    It was an outrage at the time but Ducati has done so many good things since then to earn the markets trust and respect. A lot of people are willing to give P. Terreblanche some (albeit) grudging respect. It WAS too much too soon.

    But with so many dramatic styling changes to so many other things in our lives (look at cell phones), I think people have softened on their criticism.

    The 999 had its place and thankfully Ducati has moved on.
  11. spolic

    spolic Ducati Pilot

    The styling should have gone 998, 1098 then to the completely different looks of the 999.

    Ahead of its time.

    And the second gen of the 999 was much better than the 1st.
  12. NoQuarter#121

    NoQuarter#121 WMRRA #2 Overall Points Champion

    The iconic 916 was an amazing machine. (at the time 1993-94 I think?)
    It looked like the exotic Italian machine it was, and for the day it went pretty well too.

    I have always liked the 999, thought it looked very industrial, not as obviously beautiful as the 916, but new, different, cool and functional. Although the bread box exhaust mabye wasn't my favorite.
    I think it was a statement.

    The 1098/1198 is a retro beauty, much like the new Mini, beetle, camaro, or mustang.

    It "borrows" its styling from the 916 and the Yamaha R1. (the Ducati engineers had both to look at in their offices)

    Mabye not a totally original design Like the Massimo 916 or Terrablanche 999 but too me it is the paradigm of what a motocycle should look like.
    Much like the colt .45 ACP, P-51 Mustang, or AC Cobra.
  13. Just make sure it's in yellow. 8) :nana
  14. I still just love mine. It has to be one of the most stable bikes ever built in the corners, and I love the looks even more than the 1098 except the bullet train front (I have a 1098 also) Great track bike but it could be a little faster. Just look at this and say its ugly
  15. MCA8690

    MCA8690 McLovin'

    (having ridden both a good deal)

    I think a safe consensus would be that the 999 is a sexy bike while you're RIDING it, and the 1098 is just all-around gorgeous, on or off.
    I def. liked the amazing "planted" (no other way to describe it) feeling that the 999 reveals in the corners, but, all-around, I've got to give it up for the 1098.
    <<<<< I mean, I did like 450+ mi. in one day on one (1098s), spending about 13 hours in the saddle, and felt like a champ climbing off. Say what you want about the adjustability of the 999 ergos, but continual hard braking with a tank that narrow takes its toll

    both are a blast to ride! : )
    Last edited: Dec 3, 2009
    beansbaxter likes this.
  16. I think the 1098 is a bit Japanese looking and feels a bit nervous. Great bike but a little cookie cutter looking IMO.
  17. When I first saw the 999 in pics, I thought it looked pretty weird.

    The first time I saw it in person, though, I really liked the looks. I also couldnt believe how small the bike looked and felt when riding it, especially compared to the whale-sized R1.

    I think the 1098 is just plain beautiful!
  18. I agree. I didnt like how it looked in the pictures. I first saw it in person at the 2002 IMS here in Seattle, and I loved it:


    Yep, first one I rode was a yellow 2003 999:

  19. The 999 looks better the closer you look, too. Amazing craftsmanship.
  20. The 999 feels heavy and underpowered compaire to the 1098 and it is.
    The superbike has evolved wile lowering the price, not something that is done everyday in the motorsport industry.
    I think having worked on them for the last two years however the quality of the newer superbikes is better not worse than the past.
    Also think the 1098 is way better looking than any Jap bike now that Yamaha changed the look of the R1 in 07.

    Now the 1198 makes the already very nice 1098 package feel low on power and actually heavier wile maintaining almost the same price.

    Good job Ducati