Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Volkswagen motorcycles: Will they or won’t they?


Motorcycles from Volkswagen? Stranger things have happened...

In the world of cars, Volkswagen are a powerhouse like no other. Among others, they own Audi, Bentley, Bugatti, Porsche and Skoda, and they recently bought a 20% stake in Suzuki. The last, it’s being said, is so that Suzuki’s expertise with small cars will give them access to the huge market for cheap, fuel-efficient cars in Asia. And also, maybe, so that it will let VW step into the motorcycles segment.

Ferdinand Piech, the man who heads the VW empire, is said to have a penchant for sportsbikes. Back in the mid-1980s, he was on the verge of buying out Ducati though the Italian company ultimately went to Claudio Castiglioni. ‘I would still like a small, valuable motorcycle manufacturer. I myself ride a Ducati – 180bhp and more power-per-kilo than the 1,001bhp Bugatti Veyron,’ said the 71-year-old Piech last year. And it’s not just Piech – VW’s CEO, Martin Winterkorn is also said to love bikes.

Of course, it’s still not clear whether Volkswagen sees its 20% stake in Suzuki as a starting point for its motorcycle manufacturing business. However, Superbike magazine recently caught up with designer Nils Poschwatta, who used to work with VW until recently. Poschwatta, who’s deeply passionate about motorcycles himself, designed various concept bikes (see sketches above) during his time at VW.

‘VW’s history is closely tied to Auto Union [which later became Audi], which was made up of four brands, including DKW and Wanderer, both of which used to make motorcycles. So, from a historical point of view, there is already a connection between Volkswagen and motorcycles,’ says Poschwatta.

‘But creating a car and a motorcycle is completely different. It’s very hard to create the same feeling, hard to create a family. It makes more sense to have a stand alone motorcycle brand, but to keep it clean, like VW cars, and not like Japanese bikes, which tends to be very cluttered,’ he adds.

Whether Volkswagen will really get into the bikes business – at a time when many existing motorcycle manufacturers are facing some really tough times – remains to be seen. If they do, we think VW might not do conventional motorcycles. Instead, they may choose to do high-performance battery-powered electric bikes and/or other, future-oriented two- and three-wheeled vehicles aimed at the ‘sustainable urban transport’ segment, which a lot of manufacturers seem to be looking at these days.

Either way, the possibility of VW getting into bikes has to be a good thing for motorcycles and motorcyclists. The more, the merrier…

1 comment:

HeavyDuty said...

The more the merrier is right. From a marketing standpoint, Suzuki (like Kawasaki) has always been one step behind Honda and Yamaha because of financial restraints. I'd like to see them with more coin behind them .. It would be interesting to see what their engineering dept. could come up with. I'd think VW would want some tie in with their auto brands though, like maybe a VW branded bike made by Suzuki. The possibilities ,,,