The man responsible for the promotion behind the Austrian firms debut superbike
“The RC8 is tremendously important to KTM, for various aspects. First of all it was the missing link in our core products strategy. For years we have been one of the dominating off-road brands, close to almost 50% market share, and we realised that our expansion would be very difficult to maintain if we limit ourselves to off-road. So we developed our on-road strategy, starting with supermoto, and step by step until the first twin-cylinder concept, the Adventure. In 2003 we developed the RC8, which we showed in Tokyo to test the direction of the public if we, an off-road brand, showed up with a prototype. The reaction was massive. We then did further investigations into the market and found out that with the KTM brand ‘ready to race’ we should step into the superbike sector, we think it is the champion’s league sector. For us it was the summit of what we want to achieve. We then realised the existing 990 engine wasn’t the right engine, it is designed for the off-road sector and is not a high-end engine. So we designed a new one. Superbike was the last sector for KTM to go into because we can’t make choppers, they are not what KTM stands for. We are also race maniacs!
It has been very cost intensive, but the reaction in Milan when we finally show the motorcycle confirmed it was 100% the right move. It was what was expected and what was missing from KTM. We don’t conform to the normals, we are not like the Japanese, KTM’s do a certain polarisation, we want this. We do not want to be mainstream, we don’t want to be everyone’s darling. Whether you like this brand, this type of design or dislike or hate it there is nothing in between, this is good, it is what we are looking for. We have a strong community, Orange Bleeders, and there are many over the world who stick to the brand. We have very good brand loyalty, our polarisation and stressed design attributes work out. I think the RC8 is cool, and other people do too.
Our brand has a cool factor. We have fixed what KTM stands for, it’s a religion, a brand circle, ‘ready to race’ we never left this. We have tried to converse this in our products, the people that work here, it stands for performance in our products, it’s a lifestyle, how we live it. Our engineers don’t look at their watch, they stay as long as it necessary because they like it.
With the RC8 we are right in the spotlight, we are aware of this. We have invested £6.5 million developing the RC8 and we are totally aware we have a certain responsibility. We have a bike that looks unique and rides pretty good but at the end of the day we have a responsibility not to disappoint the guys who are buying this bike. Also we don’t want to disappoint out community, so we have to go sooner or later to superbike, and we have to be competitive. It will be tough, we have no ideas that it will be easy, but it is another challenge and we are ready to do it.
Since the 1992 restart we have expanded incredibly and in the last eight years, since I have been with them, it is a different company. Not spirit-wise, size-wise. When I started we made about 16,000 bikes, then in 1999 we had a big investment, this year we will produce 100,258 bikes. It has been hard. In Austria the unemployment rate is just 2.5%, everyone who wants to work has work, and we need people who fit the company. It is a real challenge to hire people. We have 22 subsidaries all over the world, we founded six last year, we clone them like sheep! We have to communicate as unfiltered as possible to the market, KTM people are 24-7 in dealers, and we need to keep making people feel close to the group, give them commitment. To set all this up is tough, sometimes you get the wrong guys. But the biggest challenge we have distribution-wise is certainly to make sure our dealers can come the way with us, they are our commercial backbone. The motorcycle market is not easy, and we have a responsibility that they can earn a living, pay the fees. It’s another thing we have to look after.
Now we have done our plans in the top ends our next big project is in the beginners sector, new riders. We have decided to develop a 125cc lineup that will be for sure a kind of must-have for a 17-year old. It will be design-wise unique and attract young people again into bikes. We need to, bike riders are getting older and older, it’s scary. If we can start them on a 125 then once they have the experience they won’t want to leave. They can then upgrade to a 690, 990, 1190, car, whatever.”
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