The first OEM to show a near-production electric motorcycle to consumers, KTM touted at the 2011 EICMA show that as an industry leader in the dirt bike sector, it could ill-afford to stand idly by while other companies explored the development of electric two-wheelers.
Then unveiling the KTM Freeride E concept, KTM said it would trial the machine with a select number of European consumers, before rolling out the electric dirt bike to the masses later in 2013.
With nary an update since then, it would seem that the Austrian company is rethinking its position on electric motorcycles. Talking to Italy’s Motorciclismo, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer spoke of the safety and cost concerns surrounding electrics, and concluded that the timing is still too soon for EV’s to replace petrol-powered machines in the two-wheeled sector.
“I don’t see very good perspectives for the sector because the battery technology is not the level at which the bikes need,” Pierer told Motorciclismo. “In addition the lithium ion battery pack is dangerous in case of an accident they can cause explosion. It’s very very dangerous, just think about the problems that Boeing is having at the moment.”
“The battery technology simply is not at a level which can justify the investment in the product,” he added. “Our electric bike is ready and developed, but the battery pack costs €2,000. That is just too much. The electric bike markets will take off only when the product is less expensive and more efficient, it has to be truly innovative for this technology to work.”
Pierer’s last comment about innovation is perhaps the most interesting line from the Austrian businessman, as KTM’s Freeride E was essentially an off-the-shelf build by the Vienna Development Institute’s “Arsenal Research” team (now the Austrian Institute of Technology).
Lacking any real proprietary or innovative designs in the drive system, it is perhaps little wonder then why the Freeride E concept was found to be wanting, and the project seemingly scrapped (with Pierer now the owner of Husqvarna, we assume the fate of the Husqvarna E-Go is the same as that of the KTM Freeride E).
Despite the deficiencies in KTM’s design, this news surely will take the wind out of the sails at many of the electric motorcycle startups, as KTM’s involvement with the Freeride E was seen by many in the industry as recognition of the future electrics have in motorcycling.
From our scorecard, KTM’s failure with the Freeride E comes not from the state of current electric vehicle technology (though, batteries et al still remain a large factor in this space), but instead from the lackluster product the company built.
At the time of its official debut, the KTM Freeride E boasted only a rudimentary 10hp motor (30hp peak) and a 2.1 kWh battery pack, which was good for only 20 minutes of proper riding. Instead of coming out with guns blazing, as many had expected from the OEMs, the real issue here is that even in the immature electric motorcycle market, KTM got caught bringing a spoon to a knife fight.