Interview with MV Agusta CEO Timur Sardarov
By Adam Child ‘Chad’
On a recent visit to the MV Agusta factory on the banks of Lake Varese in northern Italy, I took the opportunity to chat with MV Agusta’s Russian-born CEO, Timur Sardarov.
The former London-based international businessman, who now lives in Italy, took over MV Agusta in December 2018 from the Castiglioni family when once again the historic brand hovered on the bring of extinction.
Over the last few years there’s been a clear injection of cash and urgency with MV Agusta stepping up their game and delivering more new models than ever before. As we face the uncertainty of the current Covid pandemic, we managed to grab half an hour of Sardarov’s precious time.
Adam Child: Thank you for taking time to chat with us, I appreciate you must be really busy. Since you took over MV in December 2018, has the journey been what you expected?
Timur Sardarov: “It was tough, I thought it would be easier, but it would be much better if Covid hadn’t come. The company would be stable a bit earlier, but still we have surprisingly recovered for the first time in the history of MV Agusta. We have stable production, finances and stable plans – the company structure is proper and continues to be a family run venture. But there are, as always, small issues which we are dealing with.”
AC: What have been your highlights?
TS: “This year we have launched five new models. In the history of MV Agusta, this hasn’t been done.”
AC: Aside from Covid is this where you expected to be?
TS: “Slightly behind, because of Covid, restrictions of movements and everything to do with regulatory bodies have put us three to four months behind schedule on some of the work we do, but generally Covid has brought the company together. With new management we are working to maximum capacity and with good spirits too.”
AC: Where do you see MV Agusta in the next 2-3 years?
TS: “MV Agusta is now going into the wider range of mobility. The journey will start in the lighter mobility segment and move to urban commuters that will be powered by electric propulsion. We will produce high-performance bicycles that are also electrified. We are working on a new 500 cc platform with quite an interesting philosophy and we are also working on our new adventure range that will be announced in next 3-4 months.
“We are also working on a brand new 950 platform and our 800 is going through major change with Euro 5. We took the opportunity with the Euro 5 transition to bring significantly more changes to all the bikes and all the platforms across the entire range. It’s not just Euro 5, it’s major change to the products in terms of styling and technical packaging – from next year I would say all our range could be considered new.”
AC: When I’ve spoken with your team before there’s been talk of the electric bikes coming from the Cagiva brand. Is that correct?
TS: “Oh, Cagiva is more utilitarian electric, more for B2B services – sharing platforms rather than lifestyle, premium lifestyle products like MV.”
AC: Is a replacement for the F4 in the pipeline?
TS: “To be honest, that’s still on the drawing board. We currently have to work more towards electric propulsion rather than saving the combustion engine. MV Agusta is a small company compared to many others and for us it’s important to see where everyone is going and evaluate complex developments for the high-performance superbike. We realised that after a certain amount of power is produced, we spend more time removing that power, rather than applying it. We could produce a bike with 250 horsepower, let’s say, but there is probably only 2-3 per cent of the time when this power can be applied. So the quality of the rider plus the quality of the ride need to be balanced. Do we need to produce a bike with so much power when we spend 80 per cent of that production time removing this power to make the product reliable, safe and fun and more usable for the wider audience of rider?
“We are seeing performance cars with 1000 horsepower but this power is applicable – we can all use it, you or I. Put your foot down and you can use it as the electronics in a car protect you from doing stupid things! A bike is different, it’s not as easy as that, you have only one wheel with that much power; there are physics limitations.
“We need to first see what will happen with electric, hybrid or combustion and whether we will need a massive engine with a lot of power or something different. The F4 is a brand in its own right that appeared at a time when the most technologically advanced product was the superbike. Will superbikes be important in five years, and still represent the biggest technological advancements? I don’t know. So it’s an interesting question, but perhaps another product will have that technological superiority rather than a superbike.”
AC: So I guess for a small company, if you were going to focus your efforts, it would be on the smaller capacity?
TS: “It’s important to move towards own-brand retail. The supermarket-style bike dealers are at the bottom of the food chain of the business, and Covid is putting nails in its coffin. Dealers will either have to be loyal to a brand to deliver the experience to customers, or they will be wiped out. The faster they realise this the better, otherwise this business will not exist in a couple of years.
“I’ve seen a lot of dealers in Europe deal with multibrands and I’m confident that this standard dealer model is dead. So, for me, in terms of investment, it’s about bringing in experience and showing the depth and history of the company to the customer.
“We are also moving towards becoming a mobility company rather than just a motorcycle company because we have a new DNA in which mobility is becoming more important. Thirty years ago the journey of the motorcycle rider started with a 50cc moped and now it starts with a scooter, so it’s a very different. We are also moving towards safe mobility, premium product and beautiful designs, but not too much about sports, as that’s a very dangerous area that could backfire on the company.
“Lifestyle, less pollutants, more comfortable, cheaper to own, reliable… this type of message is integrated into the product, which is why we are looking towards lighter motorcycles that are very connected. Our focus is adventure.”
AC: When you say adventure – smaller or bigger capacity?
TS: “Both. We will bring two bikes, one will be 500cc one around 1000cc.”
AC: With your focus moving more towards introducing people to the brand with smaller bikes and the mobility market, how does that change your view towards racing, which you’re currently involved in with Moto2? Will the MV brand still need to be racing?
TS: “To be honest, we don’t need racing for our brand. It’s a good showcase, but it depends how we are approached. The company went through a crisis and we had to reduce our direct involvement in non-profit making activities so, we gave it up in 2017. All the racing we do now is done with partner teams and we are evaluating that involvement with Moto2. We are going to stay for 2021 and maybe the year after, depending on how that goes. In Supersport we are evaluating it right now: there is a chance we will come back ourselves over the next two years as a factory team. Racing is relevant but not top of the priority list.
“MV Agusta never made money, and the priority now is to make sure this brand is sustainable. I think I owe it to the company to love and make this brand work. Focusing on something that doesn’t make money would be a shame, as the industry would not be the same without MV Agusta.”
AC: The way the media and manufacturers work is changing. Historically we would go to the international shows to see new models, how are you going to get the message over for MV Agusta?
TS: “Trade shows will not come back in the next 2-3 years, there will be less people and the significance of that investment is going to drop. I can tell you, for example, that the participation in EICMA in terms of people, products and time will cost MV more than one million euros. Multiply that by the amount of different shows that we have to attend to interact with our customers and the spend becomes significant. Is this an effective spend of money or not? I consider not, because its more for the public than the industry but the public is not coming – if this is only for the industry I’m pretty sure we can spend the same amount of money on a more effective way of delivering information – digital or direct – so that’s why we are evaluating how we are going to present the new products and how to communicate. We will still be introducing new Euro-5 models without EICMA.”
AC: Where do you see as the growing market – America, Europe, Asia?
TS: “For MV Agusta every market is growing. Number one market is Italy, we can grow by 2, 3… 5 fold here in a very short period of time. Same for Germany, UK, France and Spain, Netherlands… all the northern countries. Europe is our direct market, we can bring the clients, meet the collectors and I can be involved myself – we can be very intimate with our customers – we are friends with our clients. Many other companies have managers, but we are more entrepreneurial, easier to understand and more welcoming.
“Then there’s America, where we are now direct distributing. Things would have been so much better had Covid not intervened. America is a great country, but it is in disarray. Businesses on the ground are really struggling, which is why our events and activities have been halted.
“China is a modern market, where we have signed to build our network and I’m a great believer in this project. Then Japan, we are growing there. So I would say Europe, US, China and Japan, these are our biggest markets for MV Agusta to grow. Because we are so small, I can consider we are underperforming.”
“From next year we will produce 10,000 bikes, which will be a record for MV Agusta. From there we will start to be strong and the market will feel that effect. Over the next three years we will grow in all the segments but with our production outsourced, especially for the 500 cc platform, which we are outsourcing to China, we will achieve 20,000-22,000 bikes in the next three years.”
AC: What is the current production?
TS: “Around 5,500.”
AC: Everything is currently produced in Italy, but in the future?
TS: “Everything above 500 cc is produced here in Italy, everything below 500 is produced elsewhere.”
AC: Finally, readers would like to know is more about yourself. Do you still ride bikes?
TS: “I used to ride bikes and own bikes but I do not consider myself as a rider. Am I a car or bike person? I would say car person, but I grew up in the north so I’m Russian, then I lived in London, but in the north there are very few bike riders. Now I ride bikes weekly, all different bikes – it’s not that I’m sticking to MV Agusta, for me it is very important to understand every single bike that we consider our competitor and there are a lot of good bikes in the modern world. I am a great advocate and supporter of the industry.”
AC: If we went to your house and opened the garage would we see bikes in there?
TS: “I have custom Harleys, custom BMWs and MV Agustas.”
AC: Did you ride in London?
TS: “Yes, it’s the easiest way to get around, now all my bikes from London are here in Italy.”
AC: Do you support and follow the racing when you can?
TS: “I do, MotoGP is doing very well and I’m happy it’s growing compared to Formula 1, Moto GP is exciting, this year shows how unpredictable the racing can be so makes it more exciting than Formula 1. I think maybe Mir for this year. He is Spanish and everything is in Spain.”
AC: Thank you for your time.