Exclusive Interview with KTM’s Thomas Kuttruff: More Electric Bikes Coming

KTM's Thomas Kuttruff vs autoevolution's Florin Tibu 1 photo
Photo: Catalin Garmacea
During this year's ECIMA show in Milan, we swam in a sea of orange machines to reach KTM’s PR Manager Thomas Kuttruff. We sat down, had a coffee and some water and chatted about what plans KTM has for the future. Even more, Thomas agreed to give us some insights of the all-new 1050 Adventure, and some hints about the electric directions the Mattighofen manufacturer might take.
One of the most interesting moves in late 2014 is the 1050 Adventure, KTM’s first road-focused machine in quite a long time. Is it the beginning of a new orange era? Read more and find out.

autoevolution: Hi Thomas, how’s it going? What are your first impressions so far this year?

Thomas Kuttruff: For us this Tuesday [Nov 4] is the first day in the “two-wheeled industry melting pot” as we call it. The show in Milan is indeed our true kick-off move for the 2015 model year. Of course we had to introduce several new models a month ago in Cologne, but this is the real deal, when we complete the range. The highlight is obviously the new 1050 Adventure, a bike we believe will become the bestselling machine in the long term. A ground-breaking model, by all means.

ae: Wow, you do sound very confident about a bike that’s still hot from the assembly line!

TK: I think what is happening now is just the result of the decisions taken a couple of years ago. I mean, the growth here at KTM is almost scary fast, we are talking about a 30% rate. Since two years ago we are number one in Europe, as we passed BMW in terms of sales volume. This year, the gap from the second place (BMW) is only getting bigger.

ae: What is the most interesting bike KTM is offering at the moment? The 1290? The all-new 1050?

TK: Actually. We believe that the most spectacular, most interesting machines are those in the electrically-driven class, the Freeride E. The world premiere Freeride E bikes we showed in Cologne are a first for KTM. It is the first time KTM is offering an electric bike line-up of sport motorcycles, and they are also a production model, not prototypes.

Walk around this entire show, which is the biggest in the world, and you will not find anything like our Freeride E bikes. KTM is currently the only manufacturer in the world who is making a sport motorcycle with an e-drive in a serial production. These bikes are state-of-the-art machines, the technology is of course, new, and the bigger project will be time-consuming until we can convert all this in sales volumes.

ae: Do you have specific expectations from the Freeride E machines?

TK: So far we are still developing them and this will take some time. Right now, the best sales come from our newly-extended adventure bike family, the 1290 Super Adventure, the 1190 and 1190 R and the newest member, the 1050 Adventure.

ae: And the flagship is…

TK: Obviously, the flagship is the 1290 Super Adventure. To me, this is a masterpiece. The technology in this motorcycle shows really well what KTM can do today. If we look say, 10 years in the past, KTM was really an exotic nobody in the street motorcycle segment. It was a complete newcomer. Ten years later, KTM is showing a model with a technical package which is leading the market, and this is an incredible achievement.

ae: A lot of guys who are already enjoying your bikes are wondering whether KTM will extend the range of adventure bikes in the lower cc direction. Do you have such plans?

TK: Right now, we have a360-degree approach to the market. We believe that the smaller-displacement bikes are quite useful, because they will inspire the young riders. And with our excellent, growing expertise in motorsport, we can take things from the track and implement them in all the models in production.

ae: Still, some two or three months ago, there were some rumors that KTM was planning an Adventure bike based on the 390 Duke platform. What’s really going on in this sector?

TK: This is only a rumor, and not even a very good one. It is far from reality, because if you are looking a bit into the technical layout of our small-displacement bike, you’ll see that it is limited to the naked bike concept. An adventure bike needs a completely different approach, a totally different layout. Frame, tank, airbox, exhaust: this is what makes the difference, and when it comes to adventure bikes and street bike, we’re talking day and night.

Making an adventure model in the lower cc region means starting off from a blank piece of paper, it’s a new project. So it’s not possible to convert a 390 Duke into a 390 Adventure. This doesn’t mean we are not considering it, but this means a new platform, and the decision for a new platform is a big decision. It needs a big budget and massive resources, so believing we’re just altering the naked bike platform to deliver a 390 Adventure machine is well… fairytales.

ae: How about the good old LC8 engine? It was used for the Adventure, the Supermoto and even for the RC8 racer?

TK: Indeed, but the engine is not the problem. You can use the same engine for a lot of applications. It’s where you put it, the rest of the bike, the platform which needs to be different.

ae: Back into the electric realm, the scooter project came to a halt. Is KTM abandoning the idea altogether?

TK: We are 100% committed to the e-bike technology. We will deliver more motorcycles with an electric drive system, definitely. The scooter however, has been replaced by more important priorities. The scooter we showed last year was a study for the project, and we tried to find out if we could bring it to the market. As of now, the answer is no it will remain a very important study we have learned a lot from, but a decision has been made, and the scooter is not in our current plans.

ae: So definitely no scooters for now… Some will sigh as they read this.

TK: Well, what’s the name of the company? KTM Sport Motorcycles! We should stick to this name, haha!

ae: Is the 1050 the “son” of the 990 Adventure or is it a different bike altogether?

TK: This is a bit of a philosophical question. From a technical point of view, there is absolutely no connection whatsoever between the old, the first range of Adventure motorcycles and the current line-up. If anything, there is more Super Duke R DNA in the 1050 Adventure, than 990 genes.

Surely, the idea of a 75-degree v-twin and the generic idea of the bike’s usage does draw a lot of inspiration form the older models. We learned a lot from the 950 and 990 models.

ae: Since you mentioned “usage”, please tell us more about how riding an 1050 Adventure feel like?

TK: When you jump on the motorcycle, the first impression is lightness. This is a serious liter-class bike, but you’ll go like “F**! This feels so agile and light and easy to control!” Lightness and user friendliness are the keywords which describe the 1050 Adventure best.

It is indeed a door opener to the bigger KTM machines. It will familiarize the customers with what KTM Adventure bikes feel like, and prepare them for taking the step towards the more exclusive, heavier bit also more powerful models.

ae: Where does the engine come from? Is it a revised 1190 or a completely new power plant?

TK: I am no R&D guy so I could not offer you detailed, valid information on the engine side. Still, I can confirm that the 1050 engine is built on the same platform we use for the 1190 and 1290 bikes. They all share the same cases, gearbox, type of cylinders, even the throttle body.

For the 1050 Adventure, we increased the mass on the flywheel for calmer, smoother running. The engine is not so light-revving and aggressive like that of the 1190. It is a little bit more “tamed”.

ae: I somehow anticipated that the 1050 Adventure will have cast wheels. How about leaving the asphalt behind aboard this bike?

TK: If you are planning anything else than a little bit of gravel besides asphalt roads, then you’re on the wrong vehicle. You’ll find no issues on durability or stability with these wheels if you only plan a little bit of off-road here and a little bit of off-road there. For a real off-road scenario you need an enduro bike or the 1190 R.

The chassis and the suspension travel have been tuned for light, occasional off-roading. But if you want to be tough off the road, you need another bike. We estimate that around 80% of the target customers only go off the road occasionally, so the usability scenario is pretty clear.

ae: BMW has just revealed their S1000XR crossover, an adventure-sport machine. Do you see it as a rival for the 1050 Adventure?

TK: There will be many more rivals for the 1050 Adventure in the coming years. Right now, this is the segment with the best dynamics, and it is growing fast. You’ll see a lot of similar bikes revealed in the coming years. They are powerful, safe, they carry a lot of technology and are user-friendly. And since they are also very comfortable, so that’s why a lot of people are considering buying them.

ae: You mentioned “safety” and “technology”. Will it have the MSC (Motorcycle Stability Control)?

TK: At this point, not. When delivering a new bike on the market, technological features must go hand in hand with the financial considerations. Pricing is one more strong point for the 1050 Adventure, so we’ll leave it as it is for now. It does come with multi-mode ABS, though. However, we believe that in the future, all motorcycles should have a form of MSC aboard as stock trim.

Still, writing the software for a MSC system is a huge undertaking. Some might think that this is just as easy as using a different plug or updating a mapping. It’s huge money involved and this money has to be earned back. We have plans for adding MSC to all the road bikes in the future, but this is a step-by-step upgrade.

ae: When does the 1050 Adventure arrive in dealerships?

TK: You can almost get ready to ride it. Our plans for production start are set for late January, 2015 so the bike will start selling in early Spring in Europe, February-March. The same goes for the 1290 Super Adventure.

ae: are they going to be launched simultaneously or as separate models?

TK: For sure, we have plans to stage an Adventure Family event, so all the new bikes in the class will surface at the same time, in late January.

ae: Mentally challenging the Ducati Multistrada… what would the outcome of such a competition be?

TK: All the bikes in this segment are premium bikes, built with advanced technologies and strong parts. I would like to see such a showdown, and I believe the results, whatever they might be, would be really close. Still, in terms of rideability, user friendliness and easy operation, I do believe that the KTM 1050 Adventure should be benchmarking for the next year.

ae: What’s your final word for this meeting?

TK: I expect that there will be many truly surprised faces when the first 1050s are out for test rides! Wait and see!

After this interesting chat we took our time to hop on both the 1050 and the 1290. They look great and the build quality and the materials used are truly premium, so if you’re betting on either of them it’s really hard to find a reason for disappointment. We’ll be in touch for the final price tags and basic options in early 2015, but until then you can learn more about these machines following the two links below and feasting your eyes on live photos we took at EICMA 2014.

2015 KTM 1050 Adventure

2015 KTM 1290 Super Adventure
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