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Reuters March 13, 2012

Volkswagen AG unit Audi is in talks to buy Italian motorbike maker Ducati in a deal that could extend a long-standing rivalry with BMW to superbikes.

If talks with Ducati's private equity owner Investindustrial are successful, Volkswagen will also add lightweight high-revving motorbike engine know-how vital to improving fuel efficiency, to an engineering empire that includes cutting-edge car, heavy truck and ship engine technology.

At the annual earnings conference Monday, Volkswagen Group Chief Executive Martin Winterkorn signaled that Europe's largest automaker may be on the lookout to snap up the Bologna-based maker of the "Ducati monster."

"I like everything that's red," Winterkorn said in response to a question about whether they would buy Ducati, a veiled reference to the fire-engine red fuel tanks which have become a hallmark for Ducati bikes.

"One should never say no if an interesting opportunity arises, but we're big enough," Winterkorn further said, adding he did not like companies which are loss making.

Last month Investindustrial said it was looking for a "world class industrial partner" for Ducati.

BMW, which makes the Ducati rival S 1000 RR superbike, on Tuesday forecast it would reach its long-term sales target for cars four years earlier than planned, presenting Audi with a bigger challenge to clinch the crown of becoming the biggest selling premium auto maker.

Before rising to become Volkswagen Group chief, Winterkorn built up Audi's Ingolstadt headquarters to become a key research and development center for the entire VW group, specialized in lightweight fuel saving technologies like aluminum.

Piech, himself the owner of a Ducati, has long coveted Ducati and on repeated occasions lamented missing an opportunity to buy the motorbike maker after it fell on hard times.

In an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung in June 2008, Piech said VW could learn from Ducati's approach to building lightweight engines.

"A 1 litre engine can produce 200 horsepower," Piech told the paper. "Small engines are also lower from the point of view of fuel consumption. We can learn something here."
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