MV Agusta Slips Under Again

Italy’s most charismatic brand could be near the end.

MV Agusta going bankrupt
MV Agusta's partnership with Mercedes-AMG hasn't translated into stability or success for the motorcycle maker.©Motorcyclist

Reports out of Italy are that MV Agusta's relationship with Mercedes-AMG is on the rocks and that the company is having difficulty remaining afloat. It's so dire that MV has seen fit to threaten the equivalent of Chapter 11 bankruptcy despite Mercedes owning a quarter share. (Perhaps we have a case of MB watching to see if it can pick up the remaining 75 percent at fire-sale prices.)

If MV Agusta does go under, it'll be a sad ending for one of motorcycling's premier brands but one that anyone inside the industry could see coming. In fact, our relationship with MV here at Motorcyclist has always been a bit fraught because we're unwilling to give the brand a pass on things like performance and refinement just because it's MV Agusta. I caught flak for "allowing" my editors to criticize the last F3 (click here to see Supermid Shootout) we had through our test program—and it was worse than bad, with ride-by-wire performance like that of a first-article prototype, not a finished product. And then when I complained that any testbike from MV came without a loan agreement, any kind of insurance, or anything passing for valid registration, I was told that the situation would change soon and all would be well. But nothing happened.

It's difficult enough to make motorcycles in the modern world, what with strict regulations on emissions, homologation constraints, and myriad other factors; it's not a matter of cobbling together a bike that will run and expecting to sell whatever you make. The market demands refinement and performance. Sex appeal and reliability. I always had the sense that MV Agusta placed all its effort in design and far too little in product development; every MV I've ridden in the last 20 years has felt like a partway bike: partway to being finished, but never there.

MV Agusta 2015 Brutale models
Could 2015 be the end of the line for the Brutale?©Motorcyclist

The competition is just too good. Ducati is successful because it combines high technology, innovative design, and both real-world rideability and customer support for when things go wrong. Supposedly MV Agusta has 30 dealers in the US. Ducati has 20 in California alone, 132 in the US.

I feel for small manufacturers in times like these. It’s hard enough to build something as complex as a modern motorcycle using your own chassis and engine designs, but it really gets ugly when you start putting economies of scale into the equation. Everything from the electronics suite and major components like suspension and brakes to switchgear and rearview mirrors cost more when you’re buying 10 or 100, and your competition buys the same components by the truckfull. MV can’t realistically sell its bikes for $50,000, which might be what it takes to fully fund a proper development program.

Like most sentimental motojournalists, I hope MV finds a new situation, with funding and management willing to let the brand be what it wants to be, while providing the resources and corporate patience to get the products working properly.

It’s no longer enough to be pretty. To survive, you have also to be good.