Something new is on it’s way
That was the headline that accompanied the original KTM spy shots and announcement.
But will we really get something new?
There have been a lot of rumours floating around about what is coming from KTM some snippets newer than others, and after doing some digging I thought I would weigh in with some opinions.
First though let me say, I’m not a KTM basher. I think they make some great bikes, but there are some things about the direction the company seems to be going in that I’m not so happy about.
The back story
For a little background for, anyone that doesn’t know. In the 90s KTM was bought out by Pierer Mobility AG. Then in 2007 Bajaj the Indian motorcycle manufacturer bought a 15% stake in the company. This stake was gradually increased until in 2021 they owned 48% of the company. Then there was a further restructuring which led to Bajaj owning 49.9% of the parent company Pierer Mobility. So right now they own almost 50% of KTM, but also 50% of the parent company that runs KTM. That gives them a very significant say in internal decisions.
KTM’s built in India and China
There are ongoing talks about manufacturing KTM’s in the Bajaj factories in India and then there is the added complications of the deal signed in 2017 with CF Moto. Various KTM models are now made entirely in China by CF Moto and many of the other engines are also manufactured there, but the tariffs preventing them from being exported from China to India are significant. This is one of the reasons Bajaj group are fighting for the rights to build KTM motorcycles in India, as it would significantly lower the retail price without affecting profits.
The latest complication now sees KTM take on distribution of CF Moto products in various countries including the UK and Ireland.
Then we get the news that in addition to adding Husqvarna and Gas Gas to their portfolio, KTM are to buy a 25% stake in MV Agusta too.
A Complex Power Structure
So suffice to say that the present power structure of the company is a little complicated and very corporate. Now that in itself isn’t always a bad thing, but it does mean that there are a lot of people with different agendas all trying to agree the next move. That inevitably leads to delays in decision making and changes in focus.
They seem to be following the same model as the Volkswagen Audi group have done in the car world, buying up other existing brands to flood the market with what are predominantly the same cars with different badges and styling.
This was very evident with the release of the Norden 901. Husqvarna are and always have been an off road focussed company, but instead of reinforcing that brand identity of Husqvarna with the Norden they used a much more road focussed suspension and running gear set up on the Norden 901 than they had on the 890 Adventure. Why I have no idea to be honest. It makes no sense to me at all.
The 490 is dead
So we come to the news and rumours. There has been talk of a 490 KTM adventure for a long time now, It was first mentioned in 2019. But now we hear direct from the CEO that the whole 490 platform project has been axed because it was considered not financially viable, Yet at the same time there is still news and pictures of a 490 Duke that is already being built.
In the words of CEO Stefan Pierer talking to Autocar India, KTM were developing an all new 490cc platform, but the 490 platform has been shelved permanently. Instead, the company plans to roll out a 690 platform based on the same 790 platform already being made by CF Moto. It will be built by CF Moto in China and is aimed at stealing market shares from the Yamaha MT-07, Kawasaki Z650 and Triumph Trident. So road going motorcycles.
Now unless Bajaj can sign a deal to manufacture them in the newly built factory in India for the Indian market, the import tariffs would simply make them uncompetitive there because of the heavy import tariffs. This is a significant market to just throw away, and with Bajaj having such a large shareholding I am sure we will see a deal of some sort being signed soon.
So whatever happens, soon we are likely to have KTM’s made in both China and India. What will that mean for the Austrian factory that is already only focussing on the Race Team bikes and the Super Adventure? And what will it mean for prices, reliability and licenced copies? Will we have a Bajaj 790 Adventure as well as the CF Moto MT800?
Now being honest, I do find all of this a little confusing, and remember this is the same CEO that announced their would be a 490 in the first place. KTM have already wheeled out a 490 Duke Parallel twin at various shows. They already have a 450 single engine used in the Rally bike, supermoto’s and then there is the 500cc engine that could be used as a base unit too. There are also the various frames from the 390 adventure chassis up to the Rally chassis. So they have no need for a completely fresh start.
Development of a new 450/490 single could be as simple as casting a bigger sump for the 500 engine or using more standard components in the 450 rally engine, then possibly detuning them slightly or increasing oil flow to increase service intervals and then simply adding longer gear ratios. For the chassis, the 390 Adventure chassis has already proven its worth and would only need some minor bracing to increase its strength for a 490 single. So from an R&D perspective and with regard to new tooling it shouldn’t actually cost that much in investment terms. So why shelve the project completely?
An Unfinished Factory
Well, one reason may be that the 490 twin cylinder engine that was originally to be developed and built by Bajaj has been delayed because the factory in Pune, India still hasn’t actually been finished. It is this same factory that will theoretically be building the all new Indian built Triumphs too.
At the same time as all this is happening we get the announcement of a cheaper 790 Adventure being launched again. This will be relaunched alongside the 890 Adventure. It will be made in China by CF Moto and sold alongside the KTM 890 Adventure and the CF Moto MT800. The only differences really will be the power, the levels of tech attached and the quality of the cycle parts.
A 690 Parallel Twin
Then comes yet another announcement, that a 690cc parallel twin will also be launched. When that will happen we don’t know, but if rumours are to be believed it will simply be a sleeved down version of the 790 engine producing around 70HP in the same chassis. (Leass power than a 650 Vstrom)
Now remember, every company out there is there to make money. And in the motorcycle industry, the bigger the engine the bigger the price. Do keep that thought in mind.
Sleeving an engine down and slotting it into an existing frame with cheaper cycle parts will cost almost nothing in R&D and tooling costs afterall.
Ask yourself this.
Ask yourself this. As a company, do I risk spending a lot of money to develop a new smaller capacity motorcycle, knowing the R&D will take time and money and also being aware that the motorcycle could only achieve a smaller final asking price?
Or do I just sleeve down and cheapen the existing 790/890 platform knowing that there are almost no R&D costs to recoup and that it will sell for more to the masses simply because it is a bigger capacity motorcycle than the 490 would have been?
If they then decide to build a Husqvarna and Gas Gas version then we could even end up with at least 5 up to maybe even 9 bikes built around the same platform. Maybe we will even get an MV Agusta version too to make 10? and that is without mentioning the CF Moto MT800.
So it seems, we could easily end up with a choice of about 7 bikes, which on the one hand sounds great, but when in reality they are such similar bikes built around the same platform, does that really equal genuine choice?
I know I would rather have the choice of just 3 very different bikes than 7 that are almost identical.
What We Won’t Be Getting
This brings us to the motorcycle we won’t get, even though customers have been crying out for something like it for a long time now. As we already have a 390cc single and a 790cc twin, why were KTM thinking about a 490cc in the first place?
The 490cc bike would likely be more powerful than the European A2 licencing regs, so would need to be restricted. This would make it barely more powerful than the 390, so why would people spend more on a 490? I think most wouldn’t. A 490 single would be a little better on the road but would offer few advantages over the 390 and a 490 twin would have a similar problem and cost much more.
In the same way, a 690 built around the same platform as the 890 will be almost the same weight if not heavier, so why buy it rather than the 790 or 890 unless you are simply buying on price?
Smaller and Lighter
What I personally would really like to have seen, and what would make me think KTM were actually listening to the customers, would be a 590cc parallel twin in an all new lighter package.
The chassis could be smaller and lighter than the 890, and a new smaller engine (not a sleeved down 890) could be lighter too. That way, we should end up with a twin cylinder bike closer to 175kg with about 70hp. A more powerful and genuinely off road focussed equivalent to the Honda CB500X or a lighter equivalent of the Aprilia Tuareg.
Now that would be a bike I would seriously consider looking at. It would be much more capable on highways than any single cylinder bike and much more capable off road than the heavier 890 Adventure.
Alas, because of the R&D costs associated with the development of a completely new engine and chassis, this is probably the least likely motorcycle we would see built by KTM. The cost to reward figures just don’t stack up for a corporate giant when compared to the profit they could make from a sleeved down 690cc twin built around the existing chassis of the 890 Adventure.
This cost saving focus isn’t just in evidence here either. The new 690R, despite being heavier and more expensive has few real improvements. Power is up marginally and you get a measly 1/3rd of a gallon of extra fuel to quench its extra thirst. It has an even worse seat than it used to have that feels shockingly cheap and the once elegant dash has been replaced by the cheapest tackiest dash from a basic dirt bike. Is that really what you should see on a flagship motorcycle? The quickshifter, which few people actually wanted, and multiple traction control modes, are lifted straight off the Adventure bikes so will have cost little to adapt. But again ask yourself, did any 690 owners really want traction control?
Until there is any more real news I will wait and watch to see the developments of any new motorcycles within this giant corporate monster.
I just hope in the meantime that another manufacturer steps in to fill that gap in the market.
Who do you think that might be?
What would be the adventure bike that you really want to see built?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below,
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Ride free everyone.