KTM CEO Says It’s Too Soon for Electrics

03/06/2013 @ 3:24 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS


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.

Source: Motorciclismo

  • Too bad we have to wait. Electrics will someday be so great, but for now I’m thinking of a Chevy Volt (and of course the coolest fossil-fuel-powered sport motorcycle made in America.)

  • Domenick

    While I would agree that the Freeride E was underwhelming, I don’t think it will take the wind out of the sails of either Zero. Motorcycles, Brammo or BRD. Rather, it gives them breathing room and time to get even further ahead of the OEMs.

  • I really don’t think the bike was underwhelming at all. The specs aren’t that far from the Freeride 350. But the CEO is right, that current battery tech is just not quite good enough. The safety issue can probably be dealt with via LiFePo batteries but at the expense of an extra 50% in weight/bulk.

    This area of trail riding is perhaps better handled by going down spec rather than up, via a downhill mountain bike conversion with a replaceable battery pack. See the Stealth Bomber for an example. Trying to engineer something more like an MX/Enduro quickly gets into bad compromises. Too heavy, too expensive, too short a range.

    We really need a whole factor of 10 improvement in battery tech but I don’t think we’re going to get it in the next decade at least. That doesn’t mean that electric Bicycles/Bikes/MX/Scooters can’t work, but they’re definitely constrained in what we can design.

  • paulus – Thailand

    Rather than reinvent… reduce the environmental impact.
    A small displacement diesel could be the answer. Great fuel economy, lots of torque and great tank range.

    With a professional company developing it, it need not be as heavy as a tank

    This would be a great Enduro bike concept.

  • mark

    Until battery technology is at the point at which electric motorcycles can go 150 miles at highway speeds, then stop off and recharge the batteries in 5 minutes, electric bikes will continue to be a curiosity, or a commuter tool at most.

  • Andrew

    Don’t get me wrong, I know we need to find alternatives to fossil fuel so I’m all for continuing development. But as the production offerings meant to compete with conventional vehicles, the current crop of EVs is just an embarassment because the batteries are letting them down. They need to be either a lot more powerful or a lot cheaper – actually they need to be both!
    I applaud Mr. Pierer for the honest assessment of the situation and for deciding not to inflict another half-baked product to the market.

  • Domenick

    When it comes to motorcycles, going electric is not really about CO2, since motorcycles as a segment are really a very small part of the problem. It’s about the experience.

    The current crop of electrics from Zero offer 54 hp and 68 lb-ft of torque and enough battery to go 100 miles. Not exactly an embarrassment in my book, especially if you look at where they were 3 years ago.

    I would also applaud Pierer for having the business sense not to try to sell the Freeride E at this stage of its development but it would be short-sighted not to continue working on it.

  • Andrew

    @Domenick: power and torque are not a problem, but range and value/price ratio are. The issue here is that advertised 100 mile range becomes less than 50 miles at open road speeds if you read the small print. This makes the bike useless for any open road riding unless you happen to live right in the middle of a fun country road and are satisfied with a half-hour blast around your neighbourhood. Forget about touring – even a weekend warrior who lives in the city will often need to travel more than 50 miles at speed just to get out of their city!

    For a city commuter 100 mile range is fine, but here the problem is price as in this role any small displacement scooter or motorcycle will do for a lot less.

    And so, until we make real progress on batteries, electric bikes are stuck – too expensive to compete on value, and too limited to compete on merit.

    I might also add that replacing our fossil fuel dependency with dependency on lithium is rather like the proverbial jumping from the frying pan and into the fire.

  • BBQdog

    I don’t think it is too soon for nimble electric bikes. Max 100 kg. But I think it is far too soon for big electronic bikes.

  • Steve_A

    This is ironic, as one of the few applications for electrics that shows outstanding promise is motocross. BRD’s prototype demonstrates its possible to build a seemingly competitive machine with current technology; if you project out with very reasonable extrapolations just a few years, by 2015-2016 it will be possible to build an electric off-roader that will out-accelerate any open-class internal combustion machine and weigh less. Such a 220-pound machine might have a range of 50-60 miles in low-speed off-road riding, or an hour on an MX track. Add another 40 pounds of batteries, and you could double the off-road range to something that would fill almost all the needs of many off-road riders. Of course, the electric machines will be substantially more expensive than conventional MX bikes for some time, but they should make up some of that with substantially reduced maintenance. And they will certainly help prevent MX park closures because of noise concerns, and open up new semi-urban venues for MX.

  • Domenick

    @Andrew Price is definitely the biggest short coming for me. Still, they are finding a modest number of enthusiastic buyers. Electrics aren’t taking over the world tomorrow but it has to start somewbere.

    Regarding range, the figure given for the 2013 Zeros is actually 137 miles. Of course, no one is likely to get that which is why I said 100 miles. I suspect that’s about 70 miles hwy. Not enough range for a lot of people but it’s growing every year.

    Also, one can recycle lithium and it’s not an especially large part of today’s batteries.

  • Tom

    A company spends millions in R&D developing an amazingly polished concept but who’s only downfall is material costs are too high and you write it off as a “failed” attempt?!

    Stay behind your computer, the world needs more people like you. (Sarcasm)

  • protomech


    No need to suspect, the S ZF11.4 is rated at 70 miles @ constant 70 mph under the MIC highway test, 85 miles @ constant 55 mph. Huge one year improvement over my ’12 S ZF9, which is 50-55 miles @ 55 mph, 40-45 miles @ 70 mph.

  • Off road bikes and electric motors seem to be made for each other, since instant torque is exactly what you need. It’s just a matter of providing a compact enough package with sufficient range, toughness and reliability. I see the advantages in racing as well as remote off-road, where riders could recharge their bike using the Sun or a stream. Imagine a motorcycle that doesn’t need to carry fuel and can recharge itself from the environment, like a horse. Off-road travel unconstrained by the need to find fueling station.

    Beaming energy remotely will certainly be possible in the not-too-distant future, making all electrical vehicles superior in every way. They may not even have to carry batteries, except as emergency backup.

    How about an electric trials bike that’s plugged in trailing an electrical cord behind it while it’s running the course, That should be doable right now. The other riders would probably laugh at you, until you beat them. :-)

  • Andrew

    @Domenick: to quote from the review of Brammo Empulse R, the latest and greatest (and even equipped with a gearbox, which should further improve efficiency) : “We zapped through almost a full charge, with 15% remaining after 53 miles. But that stretch included 80 mph stretches on the freeway and a lot of 50 mph divided highways” … in other words, the sort of riding a non-commuter might want to do on their weekend. So never mind the ratings, 50-something miles is the real range in the real world.

  • Domenick

    @Andrew: That’s why I didn’t mention the Brammo, it’s not the latest and greatest as concerns range. While it might look (and possibly handle and accelerate – I’m waiting for a comparative review) better than the 2013 Zero, it lacks the range. Heck, it lacks the range of the 2012 Zero. And that is because adding a gearbox doesn’t increase net efficiency.

    While the multi-speed gearbox may add to acceleration and help the electric motor stay in its most efficient RPM range, it also adds frictional losses (and weight) which undo any efficiency gains.

    I prefer the Zero approach. For 2013 they boosted battery sizes and went with a new, more efficient AC motor design. To help improve acceleration, they increased the voltage.

    Regardless, expect to see ranges continue to increase with each model year. If the near-term tech in the lab works out, one might see 300-mile ranges in the next 5 years.

    To reiterate my main point, it’s cool if KTM doesn’t try to market a machine that the ’13 Zero MX would do circles around (54 hp, 68 lb-ft, 5 kWh nominal.) However, building a competitive electric motorcycle is not as easy as it might seem – the hardware, software and energy storage is constantly evolving. Though currently tiny, this niche will continue to grow and I think it would be smart to keep a development program, so as not to be left behind when electric market gets big enough to enter. Innovation pays. Sometimes not right away, but eventually, it pays.

  • @Domenick If you compare the specs, the Freeride-E is almost directly comparable with the Zero 2.8 range. Same kind of weight, range, power, battery capacity.

    Unfortunately I don’t think we’re going to see dramatic order of magnitude changes in performance in the next 5 years and probably not in the next 20. LiOn battery tech is already just about as good as it can get and the big changes in chemistry in the lab seem to be permanently 5 years from production. There are some small incremental improvements still possible in motor, controller efficiency but not anything that’s going to double range or halve charging time or halve battery cost.

    So the question for KTM and other entrants to this market is whether there’s a compromise in there that is “good enough” to be worth pursuing and that can find a market. I think there probably is, but I think it needs to play to its strengths of cheap running costs, silence and ease of use.

  • Ray

    OK BRD, your move…

  • protomech

    I’m not convinced KTM is so negative about EV bikes. The Google Translated version of the interview does match the quote posted in the story, but it’s possible that Pierer meant that he does not think the initial market will be huge, rather than that KTM is pulling out.

    Consider the following:
    * 2013-03-22, KTM shows an e-scooter based on the same Freeride E architecture at the Tokyo Auto Show
    Pierer: “We at KTM are completely convinced of electric mobility as a perfect complement to conventional powertrains. In the long term, the electric drive will come out on top for short distances – particularly in areas which are highly sensitive from an environmental perspective, like open nature and densely populated metropolitan areas! Vehicles like the ‘E-SPEED’ and FREERIDE E can help powered two-wheelers win back more acceptance in society.”
    * 2012-11-30, guest blogger on KTM’s site posts this blurb:
    “Some people in the forums, however, doubt how serious this project is for KTM and whether the E will ever be available from dealers. This can be easily clarified: For KTM CEO Stefan Pierer the project has personal interest and he is not someone who reconsiders things purely because they prove more difficult to implement than initially thought. The E is coming.”
    ” … you had the opportunity to register here in the KTM blog for a test ride on the E in 2012 and be a volunteer beta-tester. The intention is to repeat this offer in 2013. So we will let you know here in good time how your opinion as riders can help in making the Freeride E available from dealers in a form as good as it can possibly be.”