Once upon a time, KTM was a small and not particularly competitive Austrian motorcycle manufacturer. Then, the company was bought by Stefan Pierer, an entrepreneur with a lot of experience turning failing businesses around. KTM not only turned around, it roared ahead.
At the moment, KTM is outperforming the market in both Europe and North America. In Europe, the market grew by about 8% last year, while European KTM registrations grew by 21.5%. In the U.S., KTM increased registrations by 8.5% and increased its market share to 8.9% by the end of 2018 and is now the largest selling European import in the U.S.
KTM riders are cleaning up at the track, with top results in many forms of motorcycle competition. KTMs are hugely popular in the adventure bike segment, a growing part of the motorcycle market. The brand has been selling well in the off-road and dual sport markets for years, and the new 790 street machine has debuted to very positive reviews.
Tom Moen, KTM group marketing communications manager, discussed KTM’s recent success and plans for the future. He explained that “Ready to Race” is not only the KTM slogan, but also represents the brand and the philosophy of the people behind it.
“A major part of being ‘ready to race’ is the ability to move quickly to meet changing conditions,” Moen said. “When you are racing, things are always changing. You are following someone, they fall down, you change your line.”
In the same way, business conditions are always changing, and the successful business is able to adapt ahead of the curve.
Moen said that KTM’s success is due to several factors.
R&D: KTM invests a huge amount of money in R&D. Company culture is that if a project or product is not going in the right direction or not correct it will be scrapped, with no hard feelings against the team responsible for it.
“For example, the original 790 project was stopped six years ago,” Moen said. “Later, we decided to go in a different direction, and the project was revived. The bike has just come on the market and has been very successful.”
Sponsorship: KTM sponsors a large number of racers in many different types of competition. The investment in racing pays off in several different ways.
“Ryan Dungey appealed to a huge fan base, including a lot of non-motorcyclists. He was a national sports figure, very popular on ESPN. He opened a lot of people’s minds to motorcycling and got KTM before the public in a lot of ways that we couldn’t have done otherwise,” Moen explained. “We are now looking for the next Ryan Dungey, and since good racers always migrate to our brand, we should find that person soon. A lot of what we learn racing trickles down to our production bikes. The identification fans have with our racers sells a lot of our Powerware. We are one of the few motorcycle companies we know of, besides Harley-Davidson, who regularly sells clothing to non-motorcyclists.”
New Riders: The U.S. off-road market is growing and includes a large number of children and teenagers. KTM builds bikes specifically intended to appeal to the amateur off-roader, and the racing connection is very important to these young riders.
Dealer Support: KTM has over 400 U.S. dealers. It is important for KTM to have dealers who are engaged with their business and want to grow with the company. Moen suggests that a successful dealer engages with the customer and differentiates themselves from the competition.
“You can’t run a dealership on the cookie-cutter model of just discounting the product,” Moen said.
Accessories: KTM makes a large number of accessories that are intended to fit bikes for different sizes and styles of rider, and has instituted a simple means to
track accessory and Powerware sales.
“It’s super easy to track what sells and is in demand,” Moen said.
The company has focused on gaining market share, but also has plans to increase the market.
“The mid-size market is growing, and that is where the new and inexperienced riders are,” Moen said. “Our 790 has a lot of potential for this market. We wanted it to look appealing and unintimidating. It’s adjustable for a pretty wide range of riders in the standard form and easily customizable for someone who is outside of the ‘standard size,’ with an easy-to-install lowering kit. Confidence is everything when you ride a motorcycle, especially when you are a newer rider.”
Moen emphasized the importance of bringing in new and young riders to help build their love of the sport and confidence on the bike.
“KTM is working on bringing in mini e-bikes, which would simplify the motorcycle for parents of small kids. There is a lot less maintenance and since they are simpler, you just plug in the bike.”
KTM is currently the largest e-bike manufacturer in the world with their Freeride E electric motorcycle.
“Selling full-size electric motorcycles to current motorcyclists is and has been a challenge,” he explained. “There’s a lot of interest in electric motorcycles, especially among younger people, but currently, the motorcyclist is leery of change until proven.”
Moen is cautiously optimistic about the next five years.
“In the 1970s, motorcycling was more of an individual sport rather than something you did in a pack. Trends cycle around, and we think that the idea of something you can do by yourself is coming back. Now, the social network is more about how you get to share your riding experience.”
Following social trends, KTM’s 790 is doing just that.
“I think one of the more positive recent developments is the return of the standard motorcycle — what some manufacturers are calling ‘naked bikes.’ Instead of a bike that was so far into its niche that you can’t do too much else with it, like recent sport bikes, you can do just about anything on a standard motorcycle,” Moen said. “We think standard motorcycles have a broader appeal to customers today. Our 790 is a good example. We are a company of enthusiasts and we want to make motorcycling fun again.”