With a New Stake in MV Agusta, Mercedes May Be Making a Move Toward Motorcycles

Could this “marketing” relationship turn into something more?

Mercedes has never been bashful about taking credit for the invention of the modern automobile. You wouldn’t be either – not after a hundred years of success. But four-wheeled domination is apparently not enough, the German juggernaut is looking increasingly eager to get in on the two-wheeled game: Last week, Benz bought a 25% stake in Italian high–performance motorbike company MV Agusta.

The partnership makes a ton of sense. MV Agusta is a 70-year-old Italian racing bike company, whose founders, Counts (yes, counts) Vincenzo and Domenico Agusta, began selling bikes after World War II to fund their racing projects. Successful through the late sixties, the brand stumbled in the seventies and eighties, falling behind competitors like Ducati. Things were a little better in the nineties, when the company was bought and sold by various companies from Harley-Davison to BMW. Recently, though, MV Agusta has consolidated and produced its strongest line-up in years. The quarter-over-quarter sales are trending up. It’s an impressive, if fragile, success, and an opportunity to move forward by seeking out the guidance and protection of a huge international.

For its part, Mercedes is always looking to expand its brand, a fact recently demonstrated by a collaboration with boat manufacturer Cigarette Racing. A partnership with MV Agusta gives the company an avenue into the super-fast, exciting world of racing motorcycles.

What’s unclear at this point is the extent to which Mercedes will be involved in the design and production of MV Agusta’s bikes. While Mercedes applying some of its engineering might to the world of high-speed bikes is a thrilling prospect, the release noted that the cooperation between the two brands would be limited to the “area of marketing and sales,” which is to say advertising, dealerships, and decals.

Still, despite the demure statements about this “strategic” partnership, we have a hard time believing Mercedes will be able to keep its fingers off of Agusta’s designs. Ego has always been a part of the German auto industry. When BMW released its super-sports M5 in 1986, Mercedes expedited the release of its 500E, a Porsche-built, 326 horsepower rival. And when Mercedes began bolting 7-speed gearboxes into its cars, BMW went to transmission manufacturer ZF for an 8-speed.

With Audi in possession of Ducati, and BMW in possession of a legacy of motorcycle engineering brilliance, Mercedes-AMG looks like it wants to get into the competition. This is a race we’ll want to watch.