Recently, MO was given the rare opportunity to go behind the scenes at KTM and look inside the walls of its hallowed R&D department. Riding a wave of recent success with its strong sales and rapidly growing portfolio in the past decade, KTM felt the time was right to celebrate a little and give its fans a glimpse into what makes a KTM a KTM. While in Austria touring the KTM factory, we also got a chance to visit with Gerald Kiska and tour his studio. While there, we also got a sneak peek into its inner workings, and how a KTM (or Husqvarna) goes from computer sketch to production motorcycle.
KTM’s success is that much sweeter considering the company was on the brink of extinction in the early 1990s. That is, until Stefan Pierer came in and scooped up KTM. However, a new lease on life is one thing; bringing KTM to a point of prominence from nearly ashes is another.
That’s where Gerald Kiska comes in. A designer working to get his name established after founding his eponymous design studio in 1990, he was lucky enough to establish a relationship with Pierer after submitting the winning entry for a design contest. That was 23 years ago, and Kiska has played a role in designing every KTM since.
That’s not all, though. Kiska also set into motion the repositioning of the KTM brand, first by creating the KTM logo we now recognize in 1994. Today everyone knows KTM by its distinct shade of orange, but it was Kiska, also in 1994, that married the two, joking that “All the other colors were already taken by the rest of the manufacturers.”
The bright, in-your-face color suited the direction the brand was headed, as the following year, 1995, KTM adopted its “Ready To Race” slogan it still lives by today. Internally, Kiska helped KTM develop its four brand values – Purity, Performance, Adventure, and Extreme – and the marketing strategy that has led to KTM being relevant again. Today, KTM owns a 24.9% stake in Kiska, and the Kiska Design Studio employs 150 people from 28 different nations.
Kiska is far more than just a design studio, and that was Gerald Kiska’s vision all along. His company takes care of the entire brand: from research and market analysis, to design development and styling, to corporate design and brand communication.
You might remember Craig Dent from the KTM story posted earlier. Kiska’s lead designer for KTM and Husqvarna, Dent’s got quite a challenge with each new design brief, but it’s clear he’s not faking his enthusiasm for the challenge.
Technically speaking, Dent and his team at Kiska aren’t engineers. However, they are in such constant contact with KTM that engineering questions can quickly be answered and the subsequent design can then be incorporated into the new model. Here are design sketches for the Super Duke GT, showing mockups for the front fairing support and rear subframe design. From the onset, the design of the SD GT factored in the saddlebags, so not only did the rear of the motorcycle have to be structurally sound to support the extra weight, but it also had to look good.
The inspiration board isn’t its official name, but nonetheless, this panel is revealing in that we see what it is that influences Kiska designers. Products, materials, textures, you name it. With Husqvarna now under the KTM umbrella, Kiska has the added challenge of designing for two brands.
To the right you’ll notice the Husqvarna board with a few words that describe the brand. They are:
“Having Husqvarna allowed us to define more what KTM is,” Dent said. In some ways designing for Husqvarna is even liberating, as Hubert Trunkenpolz, KTM CSO, admitted that Husqvarna will be the brand in which the company will expand into segments KTM currently isn’t occupying.
Ugly motorcycles rarely sell well, so Dent and his team set out to make the Super Duke GT look pleasing to the eye both with and without saddlebags. Before clay models are produced, drawings like the one below give the first visual representation of what the finished product will look like. Members of the KTM brand management team sit upstairs and are available to give instant approval to move forward, or to provide criticism if something’s not right.
Kiska’s Transportation and Design wing (below) usually has more vehicles sharing space on the floor, but on this day they were moved aside and placed under covers. Nonetheless, it’s in this room where all the magic happens. With KTM personnel within the same building, design is able to progress extremely quickly, and it’s here where P1, P2, and P3 prototypes are made.
Designers work on both KTM and Husqvarna, as well as Kiska’s other clients, which has them drawing up fire hydrants, riding lawnmowers, parking-lot light fixtures, and even water bottles. All in an effort not to become stagnant. In fact, Dent’s latest hire is a 24 year-old Canadian with zero motorcycling experience.
“He thinks outside the box and questions everything,” says Dent. “Usually we have to tell him why things are done a certain way, but sometimes he questions something and we have no answer. This is great.”
Husqvarna’s 701 and 401 concepts that were seen at EICMA 2015 were born from the Kiska studio. Below you can see that, while each bike retains their KTM engines and underpinnings, none of the three would be confused for a KTM. Dent mentioned how the 701 and 401 concepts are easily adaptable templates, witnessed by the fact the 401 at the far left is the same bike as the 401 in the middle only in scrambler trim, achieved with minimal modifications (the 701 is on the right). More interesting, according to Dent, is that many of the people he’s met who are interested in the 401 have no prior history with motorcycles.
While this is obviously good for the growth of motorcycling, there’s also an underlying benefit as well. Kiska’s rebranding of Husqvarna is focused on what’s to come. To that end, Dent says, “The 401 and 701 don’t rely on the past, they are opening the door to Husqvarna’s future.”