MV Agusta Chairman Hubert Trunkenpolz Interview – Part One

Alan Cathcart
by Alan Cathcart

Back in the Black

Photos by Fabio Polimeni

In November 2022 Italian trophy brand MV Agusta, wholly owned since 2019 by Russian entrepreneur Timur Sardarov and his family, and Pierer Mobility AG – KTM’s parent company – reached an agreement on ‘future strategic cooperation’, as a result of which the Austrian firm headed by Stefan Pierer would acquire a 25.10% stake in MV Agusta via its KTM AG subsidiary. At the first meeting of the newly constituted MV Agusta board on November 15, a capital increase of €30 million was agreed, denoting the sum KTM had paid to acquire its new minority shareholding in the company. As part of this strategic alliance KTM took charge of purchasing all components needed to manufacture MV Agusta’s entire range of models, as well as responsibility for marketing, distribution and after-sales service for MV Agusta on a global basis outside Italy.

At that stage, no agreement was revealed for Pierer to assume a majority shareholding in the company, although on October 24, 2023 a call option was granted to KTM AG to acquire a majority stake in MV Agusta, which would be exercised in Spring 2026 based on a satisfactory financial statement as of December 31, 2025. But on March 15 this year it was announced that Pierer would now be exercising that call option prematurely, with immediate effect, and two years earlier than envisaged would acquire a further 25% of the shares to take outright 50.10% control of MV Agusta, for an unrevealed cash amount. Hubert Trunkenpolz, 62, a long-time member of the Executive Board of Pierer Mobility, would take over the role of CEO and Chairman of the Board of Directors from Timur Sardarov, who while retaining 49.90% of MV equity would continue to serve the company as Vice-Chairman, brand ambassador and consultant.

The chance to interview Hubert Trunkenpolz – whose family name denotes the ‘T’ in KTM, and who has been associated with Stefan Pierer since he rescued KTM from bankruptcy in December 1991, and refloated it in January 1992 – about Pierer Mobility’s plans for Italy’s most historic manufacturer, winner of 270 Grand Prix races, 38 World Riders' Championships, and 37 World Constructors' Championships, came by visiting the historic MV Agusta factory at Schiranna, on the shores of Lake Varese. Here’s what he had to say.

Alan Cathcart: Hubert, why did KTM AG purchase a majority shareholding in MV Agusta?

Hubert Trunkenpolz: Well, first of all, this did not happen overnight. We’ve always kept an eye on MV Agusta, because we were always looking at the products coming out of Italian motorcycle manufacturers, particularly MV but also Ducati and Aprilia, because of their attention to detail in design, and their special way of building motorcycles. Also, historically speaking, MV Agusta is one of the most famous brands in the industry, and we thought it could be a good addition to our portfolio. Furthermore, from the earliest days of his ownership of the brand, Timur Sardarov was in contact with Stefan Pierer, and also with Gerald Kiska [PM design guru and PM Board member – AC]. Over recent years we increased our personal contacts, and I’ve built up a really good personal relationship with Timur. So when the time came for us to team up together, the first step was for us to obtain a minority shareholding, and the second was to take over operation of the company, via a majority stake in MV. But all along it’s been a gradual process of intensifying our collaboration.

AC: Did Timur Sardarov in fact contact you first, rather than Pierer Mobility approach him in seeking to acquire a stake in MV Agusta?

HT: Timur originally got in touch with us just to establish a contact – it was right after he took over MV Agusta. At that stage he wasn’t looking for any partnerships, just getting contacts in the industry.

Timur Sardarov.

AC: However, in November 2022, you formalized an initial investment of 25.10% in MV Agusta. Had he contacted you prior to that for some kind of financial involvement?

HT: No, we met each other regularly every year, and thought about how we could work together. So the initial idea was that we’d take over the distribution for MV Agusta in the USA, and also in Australia, because we knew we had a better structure there, and could help out a little bit in these important markets for MV. In that way we got to know each other better, and this evolved into the idea to step into a partnership. I look at it in two ways: first of all, we’re grateful to Timur and the Sardarov family that they saved MV Agusta from certain extinction through their investment in the business, and on the other side, I think Timur is a smart guy, and he knew that over time he needed to be embedded in a bigger industrial group. Keeping MV Agusta as a standalone company was a challenge he could never win.

AC: Yes, I guess the problem is that MV on its own isn’t big enough to have the commercial clout with suppliers, and with dealer distribution, that a company like KTM, or Pierer Mobility, has. Despite being a luxury brand, MV isn’t a true artisan maker of hand-built bikes – it’s a small-volume series production manufacturer. So it’s in an awkward middle ground, and I would imagine that not only was it a question of distribution that appealed to Timur, but also sourcing components, and the pricing for them?

HT: Precisely – that’s exactly right. It was maybe one of the biggest problems of the company to have I would say not the best cards on the table with suppliers, in terms of both price and delivery. So this was the first stage that we tried to improve, fixing the supply chain, making sure parts supply is at the right level. So right now we have 96% availability of spare parts - I just got the latest figures today. And also to try to standardize the processes, because production was interrupted from time to time because suppliers didn’t deliver, and so on. And frankly speaking, when it comes to technical resources, for sure we want to keep MV Agusta as Italian as possible, but on the other side, we need to utilize the resources we have in the Pierer Mobility group when it comes to testing facilities and other capabilities that we have in house, which are not available here in Schiranna or in San Marino.

AC: However, the 25.10% you acquired in November 2022 was only a relatively small proportion of MV Agusta equity. What was your thinking behind this minority investment – was it just a foot in the door, or was there a future expectation that you would acquire a majority shareholding in MV Agusta?

HT: No, it was clear from the beginning that it was always a two-stage process. We never would have made that initial investment without having the possibility of progressing to a majority holding. We always had an understanding with Timur and the Sardarov family that this would happen, just that we executed the second step a little earlier than initially planned. This was because we quickly learnt that we can work together very comfortably, that we have a certain trust in each other, and it thus made more sense if we went into the industrial leadership position sooner rather than later.

AC: But originally your call option for a majority stake was for Spring 2026, so why was it exercised so much earlier – on March 15 this year?

HT: Because we had seen that we needed to have clarity about who was in charge here in Varese, so we had to speed things up dramatically.

AC: Was it the fact that only 1,852 MV Agusta motorcycles were delivered to customers last year, meaning that there was a cash flow problem?

HT: Absolutely, yes – it was a very unpleasant situation, and there were multiple reasons why we were there in the first place, and for us it was clear we had to speed up the restructuring of the company. So that’s why we agreed with Timur that we’d take over leadership of MV Agusta earlier, because holding a majority of the equity is one thing, but the more important thing is who is actually running the company, and making decisions about its industrial operation. So we came to an understanding between Timur and myself, and also between the Sardarov family and Stefan, that this was the best for the project.

AC: It’s been reported in the Italian press that Pierer Mobility has paid €150 million in total for 50.10% of MV Agusta equity, and that rather than a direct payment to the Sardarov family, this was used to recapitalize the company via extra investment. Is this correct?

HT: Sorry, but we have an agreement not to talk about such details!

AC: But substantial new investment has nevertheless been made in MV Agusta – like for example, the new production line that I’ve just seen today for the first time, which didn’t come cheap. Has all this been financed by Pierer Mobility?

HT: No, that new assembly line was bought and paid for before our arrival, it was just brought into operation under our management. It’s working very well, so we’re very happy that Timur made the investment to install it, because it was really necessary to do so.

AC: What is your strategy for turning MV Agusta around and improving its profitability? Through increasing production numbers, through greater efficiencies, by cutting back on spending – or what?

HT: It can only be achieved above all by a combination of two measures. Firstly, we must stabilize the processes, and bring cost transparency into the company, so we will introduce SAP during the Summer break this year to really have an increased transparency on the cost and on the manufacturing processes as such. [SAP: Systems Applications and Products resource planning software improves inventory management, and provides improved management of stock and warehouse data – AC] Second thing, of course, is that we have to work on our product line-up. We will definitely stick to three cylinders or four cylinders only – no six-cylinder models, but no MV twins, either! But for sure we need to intensify development of the exciting, unique new models that our customers expect from us. So a combination of new products, better processes, cost efficiency, and the main thing, a proper dealer network that we don’t have at the moment, with the support from the factory in terms of after-sales follow-up, spare parts and suchlike which were lacking in the past - these are the ingredients to make MV Agusta profitable again.

AC: What is the current state of your dealer network - how many do you have worldwide, particularly in the USA?

HT: We presently have about 180 dealers that we call ‘ready to invoice’. So these have all undergone technical training, have a dealer contract in place, and also some kind of finance facility available. Some of them are very new, so are not really fully operational yet. However, we have a good 150 fully functional dealers at the moment - but we need 400 minimum. So this shows we still have a long way to go in building up a dealer network, and this is the biggest and most important task that our Sales Department has at the moment - finding new qualified dealers, and convincing them to become really committed MV Agusta outlets. But this will not happen overnight. We know it will take another one or two years until we have these 400-plus dealers, but collectively they will be the crucial ingredients to put the MV Agusta balance sheet back in the black again. So with their help we expect to sell 10,000 units annually, which is the number we want to achieve, and from then on we should be OK.

AC: Is that MV’s break-even number?

HT: On the basis of today’s figures, break-even will be between 6,000 and 8,000 bikes annually.

AC: Out of those 180 dealers, how many presently are in America, and out of the future 400, how many do you want to be located there?

HT: We consider North America as one of the crucial markets for MV Agusta in the future, and ideally we need to have 70-80 dealers in the USA, but we have no more than 40 at present there, although that’s constantly growing. We have to be focused on the big cities, and frankly speaking, also on places where there’s an established Italian community, many of whom can easily afford a couple of MV Agustas. So we don’t need a dealer network all across the United States, we just need to have proper dealers in those spots where people have buying power, and the desire to purchase Italian performance products.

AC: Another country with significant pockets of residents with an Italian heritage is Australia - so will you follow a similar strategy there to the USA?

HT: Absolutely, yes. Australia is a key target for us, because we know Italian motorcycles have a big potential there that isn’t properly tapped yet by MV Agusta. Also, don’t underrate Japan – Japanese customers really love Italian products in general, and MV Agustas in particular.

AC: But what type of bikes will you be offering them? Will they be exclusively high end, high performance models with a minimum capacity of 930cc, which is the size of your new three-cylinder engine in the Enduro Veloce, or will you also look at, say, providing urban transportation vehicles, particularly electric ones like the Ampelio scooter displayed at EICMA 2022, which you developed in conjunction with Kymco in Taiwan?

HT: No, not at all. In my opinion there should not be no MV Agusta model of any kind costing below €25,000 retail – that should be the entry gate. But there is no upward limit, because I believe we can perfectly well sell MV Agusta models for €60-70,000, provided it’s the right product. So no urban commuters, especially not electric ones, no entry level bikes, only top level, exclusive models, and this is the approach that MV Agusta has to take. It’s not only a super sporty brand, with all that illustrious racing heritage, but we also want to develop a really luxury model range that’s fit to carry such an illustrious badge on the fuel tank

AC: OK, but with a € 25,000 entry barrier, this means your new Enduro Veloce at € 23,000 ($21,998 USD) comes in below that mark! When I interviewed Stefan Pierer about this model a year ago as MV’s collaboration with PM was intensifying, he told me that this is not the kind of motorcycle that MV Agusta should be building - but on the other hand, it seems from its successful debut in the market that you’ve had a rather unexpected hit!

HT: So first of all, I have to admit that the bike is much more successful than I was expecting, and I’m super happy about that. Don’t get me wrong, like Stefan I was also very critical about its development, considering the competition we were facing in the segment. BMW, Ducati, KTM, Triumph, Honda – everybody is there, and nobody is waiting for you to catch up with them. So I did have some concerns, but I’m really happy that I was proven wrong! And it’s a starting point, as I said, when I was mentioning the € 25,000, it’s a target that we want to go to. Sooner or later the Enduro Veloce will have that price tag, and we think this is the proper gateway for the brand.

AC: So it'll be your entry level model?!

HT: Yes!

This interview continues with Part 2 next week, where Trunkenpolz discusses keeping MV Agusta in Italy, future models, and a potential return to Grand Prix racing.

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Alan Cathcart
Alan Cathcart

A man needing no introduction, Alan Cathcart has ridden motorcycles since age 14, but first raced cars before swapping to bikes in 1973. During his 25-year racing career he’s won or been near the top in countless international races, riding some of the most revered motorcycles in history. In addition to his racing resume, Alan’s frequently requested by many leading motorcycle manufacturers to evaluate and comment on their significant new models before launch, and his detailed feature articles have been published across the globe. Alan was the only journalist permitted by all major factories in Japan and Europe to test ride their works Grand Prix and World Superbike machines from 1983 to 2008 (MotoGP) and 1988 to 2015 (World Superbike). Winner of the Guild of Motoring Writers ‘Pierre Dreyfus Award’ twice as Journalist of the Year covering both cars and bikes, Alan is also a six-time winner of the Guild’s ‘Rootes Gold Cup’ in recognition of outstanding achievement in the world of Motorsport. Finally, he’s also won the Guild’s Aston Martin Trophy in 2002 for outstanding achievement in International Journalism. Born in Wales, married to Stella, and father to three children (2 sons, 1 daughter), Alan lives in southern England half an hour north of Chichester, the venue for the annual Goodwood Festival of Speed and Goodwood Revival events. He enjoys classic cars and bikes, travel, films, country rock music, wine - and good food.

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Join the conversation
5 of 10 comments
  • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch on Jun 29, 2024

    They allowed KTM to buy in so they are dead to me. There are already enough colors on the KTM/CFMoto rainbow. And we all know KTM isn't known for their reliability so how are they going to help MV with that?

    • Imtoomuch Imtoomuch 7 days ago

      Congrats on being the exception. That's not the norm. Anybody without blinders know this.

  • Max Max on Jun 29, 2024

    As someone who finally has the financial ability to buy some really nice bikes, I can't wait. Everyone likes MV Augusta bikes, but they just haven't been "good enough" to actually buy them. Bad fueling, minimum dealer network, high prices with week resale value, etc. I am hoping that this move increases the quality, fixes the things that need fixing, and they truly become the Ferrari of motorcycles. If so, I'm a buyer!

    • See 1 previous
    • Max Max on Jul 03, 2024

      Oh I disagree, maybe KTM's had problems 5–10 years ago, but I have quite a few friends who ride them and they have been hammered on and those things keep coming back for more. Quality is just as good as all the other European brands, and that's coming from the people who actually own them, not from people trolling the Internet believing whatever they see.