KTM Duke 390 Road Test Review

Indo-Global tie-up seems to be the theme of automobile news this week. After having broken two big scoops about BMW-TVS motorcycles, an even bigger piece of news is here. Bajaj-KTM plan to continue their performance bike onslaught with the Pulsar maker being given the responsibility by the Austrian firm to develop street motorcycles (not dirt bikes) up to the 800cc segment, all being manufactured at Bajaj Auto’s Chakan facility which is already churning out KTM bikes for the world. This is BIG news for us in India, as Bajaj Auto will be sharing platforms with KTM for its future bikes (like the Duke 390 and Pulsar SS400 do), resulting in a variety of options for the Indian biker. Even Husqvarna will be underpinned by the same platform with Bajaj Auto doing the complete production of the Swedish branded bikes locally.

This news about Bajaj Auto making up to 800cc bikes for KTM means a lot of things, positive as well as negative (for BMW). First things first, KTM will continue to focus on the 800cc and above segment, which means the automaker will try to win hearts in more established segments like the litre class. The recently launched KTM 1290 Super Duke R has manage to beat (in shootouts by international publications) the king of kings, the S1000RR based S1000R naked motorcycle from BMW. KTM will be able to give BMW a real run for its money by churning out high end bikes which are better engineered.

Also, since Bajaj will be making KTM bikes up to 800cc and the BMW-TVS tie-up is only to produce bikes in the 250-500cc, KTM will be able to price its 500-800cc bikes very competitively against BMW’s offerings in that space. Lower pricing will result in higher sales, helping KTM stay ahead of BMW in overall sales, where the Austrian firm has already beaten the Bavarian automaker for a second year in a row. Besides, BMW and TVS are just in an alliance, with no cross holding of ownership involved, so at the end of the day, neither parties care about each others sales volumes. Not the same with KTM and Bajaj as the Rajiv Bajaj led company owns a massive 48% in the ‘Ready To Race’ brand.

The Duke 125, Duke 200 and Duke 390 bikes were all developed in India and R&D costs for the same are much lower than what KTM would have spent in designing these bikes at its hometown in Austria. Production costs in India are cheaper by 30% (when compared to Europe), while producing locally in India has helped KTM get an entry into emerging markets like ours, while also leveraging Bajaj Auto’s existing export channel. BMW has no immediate plans to enter India, which will definitely harm them as far as volumes go, since India is one of the most promising 2-wheeler markets in the world.

So what can we expect Bajaj Auto to develop till 800cc? We all know a twin-cylinder platform is being developed and 500cc and 800cc parallel-twin motorcycles will be unveiled by 2016. The same engine and platform will be used on different body styles (like street-fighter, super sports, Enduro/Adventure) while even twin-cylinder engined Pulsar 500cc and Pulsar 800cc are likely. Currently KTM has the Duke 690 in the sub 800cc street segment, which has aged a lot and is due for replacement in the next couple of years. We feel KTM will replace the Duke 690 with a Duke 790 as the current single-cylinder 690 lacks a lot on the refinement front.

KTM and Bajaj have big goals. For both these enthusiast brands, too much is also never enough. After having conquered the European market and pushing BMW Motorrad out from the top spot, KTM has its eyes firmly set on the Japanese big-wigs. Yes, you read that right. KTM wants to rush past Suzuki by 2016 while by the end of this decade, it wants to beat Kawasaki (in performance motorcycles sales). Entry into new markets like Thailand and China will lead the growth path for KTM as it did not have products to offer these developing markets earlier, but with Bajaj Auto’s aggressive cost control, these emerging markets have welcomed KTM with open arms.

Beating BMW wasn’t much tough for KTM and considering how good the current crop of sub 500cc Duke bikes are, we can only imagine what is to come. The next generation of Dukes, which are due in the second half of this decade, are expected to take the orange brand to an entirely new level. While Suzuki continues to sleep; Kawasaki and Yamaha responding slowly, it’s really Honda who is of real competition to KTM. No wonder then, in the domestic market, Honda and Bajaj are closely fighting, while on the global scale, KTM’s secret and long term plan is to beat each and every Japanese 2-wheeler manufacturer, showing the way that Europeans with the help of Indians can revolutionise the motorcycle manufacturing process.

2014 KTM 690 Duke