FRANKFURT/MILAN (Reuters) - Volkswagen's (VOWG_p.DE) luxury car division Audi (NSUG.DE) plans to announce the acquisition of Ducati next week, having completed a due diligence assessment of the Italian motorcycle maker, two people familiar with the matter said.
Audi encountered no major stumbling blocks when checking Ducati's books, the people said on Wednesday. The purchase could be announced as early as April 18, the day before VW's annual shareholders' meeting in Hamburg.
One of the sources said that Ducati's main shareholder, Italian buyout firm Investindustrial, agreed to talk with Audi exclusively.
Volkswagen, Audi and Investindustrial declined to comment.
A successful deal would fuel Audi's long-standing rivalry with Bayerische Motoren Werke (BMWG.DE) in superbikes, and add expertise in high-revving light engines to VW's engineering portfolio, which ranges from cars and heavy trucks to ship engines.
Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera also reported on Wednesday that an accord between Ducati and Audi was expected to be signed next week, citing no sources.
The paper noted that Audi had the right to negotiate exclusively until April 15, after which Investindustrial was free to talk to other potential buyers.
In 2005, Audi tried to buy Ducati from former owner Texas Pacific Group but was trumped by rival bidder Investindustrial, Corriere della Sera added.
Ducati was founded in 1926, and over the past 60 years it scored 17 manufacturer's World Championship titles, most recently winning the 2011 World Superbike Championship title.
Investindustrial's chairman Andrea Bonomi told The Financial Times in February the firm was looking to sell Ducati.
Last month the paper cited sources as saying the price could be about 850 million euros ($1.1 billion) including 800 million in acquired debt.
The two sources on Wednesday declined to comment on the purchase price or give more specifics of the planned acquisition.
For Audi, whose Ingolstadt headquarters have become a key research and development centre for lightweight fuel saving technologies, Ducati's engine technology could add a new development dimension.
Audi has also owned Lamborghini since 1998 and together with the Italian supercar maker aims to produce lower weight vehicles by increasing the share of components made of carbon fibre.
(Additional reporting by Andreas Cremer in Berlin and Jennifer Clark in Milan; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)