KTM’s four-wheeled future | CAR Magazine

KTM’s four-wheeled future

Published: 25 February 2008 Updated: 26 January 2015

KTM’s X-Bow track day car is just the start of a five-model line-up that will include Dakar and Le Mans endurance racers. Stefan Pierer, the youthful-looking 51 year-old CEO of KTM, has revealed to CAR how he intends to turn his company into the Austrian equivalent of Lotus.

The unveiling of the production version of the Audi-engined, carbon-monocoque X-Bow at the Geneva Motor Show on March 4 2008 is exactly one year on from the first showing of the prototype. It’s also the first in a series of moves that will catapult KTM into prominence as a serious car maker.

Establishing the KTM brand

‘We think we can define a new niche within the sports car segment, doing something that Lotus used to do 20 years ago or more,’ Pierer revealed. ‘Lotus has moved away from that area, but the market still exists.’

Although the first few carbon-fibre monocoques will be made by race car builders Dallara, production of the X-Bow is set to move to Austria as soon as possible. Pierer says: ‘We are producing the car ourselves. At the moment we are refurbishing a factory facility and we will start production mid-year. Initially, we will build 800-1000 cars each year. We already have 2000 orders for the X-Bow, and 300 of them have put down 10,000 Euro (£7500) deposits.’

Expanding the KTM range

Pierer might be new to car construction, but he’s planning to follow the same modular route with the X-Bow as he uses on KTM’s two-wheeled offerings – where each engine and chassis design forms the basis of an entire range of machines.

‘Although it’s a simple car,’ he says, ‘it’s still very complicated compared to a superbike. We must have some other models based on the same monocoque to make it profitable. We are starting with the X-Bow, which goes on sale this year, followed by a version for the FIA GT championship, in the GT4 Light class. In 2009, we will launch a new version of the X-Bow, with a roof and doors, and then a version based on the 330bhp engine from the Audi S3.’

The GT4 Light machine, which will make its debut as a prototype at the opening round of the FIA GT championship at Silverstone in April, follows Pierer’s mantra of offering exactly the same equipment to customers as works-backed racers use. ‘The GT4 Light class car makes for a very efficient possibility to go racing,’ he explains, ‘for a Porsche or a Lamborghini racing in the same series, you would have to pay three times as much. We will launch the GT4 Light production car in autumn this year, but prototypes are already testing and we will have our first race as a prototype at Silverstone.’

Taking KTM off-road

While as a bike maker KTM now has offerings in every road-going class, completing its range this year with the stunning 1200cc RC8 superbike, its heritage is in off-road competition. No firm has had more success on the punishing Dakar rally on two wheels, and Pierer wants to use the same event to prove the worth of his four-wheeled creation.

Despite appearing to be very much a Tarmac-oriented track car, the X-Bow has been designed to form the basis of an off-road machine, too. Pierer says: ‘We are thinking about off-road use. It’s something that everyone expects from us. It will still be based on the same carbon-fibre monocoque, but we will be looking to race in the Dakar with it.’

And that’s not the limit of his competition aspirations: ‘We are also thinking about making a Le Mans version – the four-wheeled equivalent of the RC8.’

The future’s orange

Pierer hasn’t got much left to prove on two wheels. His firm has grown while others struggle, distinctive, orange-painted KTM racers have won multiple top-line championships both on and off-road, and he’s already got plans to make KTM the biggest bike firm in Europe – a goal he could achieve very soon.

Just 15 years ago KTM made less than 7000 bikes per annum. This year the figure is set to top 100,000 and Pierer wants to double that very soon. Now his sights are set on gaining credibility as a car maker. ‘We expect to be producing five versions of the X-Bow and making 2000 or 2500 units per year,’ he says, ‘we aim to become a serious player in the high-end sports car market. Everything we do already in motorcycles, we want to do in cars. Many of our customers are coming from motorcycles to the cars. They grow up riding bikes, and reach an age where they have some more money, and want a sports car. They know the KTM brand and what we stand for.’

Soon a lot more people might be familiar with it, too. Making bikes isn’t a bad starting point; just ask Honda or BMW.