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ADV NewsKTM Beats Both BMW and Harley-Davidson in Global Unit Sales

KTM Beats Both BMW and Harley-Davidson in Global Unit Sales

The Austrian brand continues steady growth under leadership of Stefan Pierer.

Published on 06.17.2019

KTM fans won’t be surprised that Team Orange is roosting its competition these days. In 2018 the Austrian company outsold its German rival BMW Motorrad by nearly 100,000 units, and that’s including the Motor Works’ scooter line. And in even more intriguing news, KTM passed Harley-Davidson for the first time – selling 33,000 more bikes last year than the iconic motorcycle brand.

And yes, those winning numbers are directly related to the way KTM keeps outdoing itself with modern and capable off-road, ADV and street bikes, but the real story is in the company’s current management and its history of good choices.


To catch you up, KTM’s been around since 1934 but it didn’t gain traction in Europe until after WWII when founder Hans Trunkenpolz turned to making affordable, hard-wearing bikes much appreciated by the recovering citizenry. His son Erich carried on the tradition as KTM became one of Austria’s biggest hero brands long before Red Bull stole the spotlight. In 1989 Erich passed away heirless and the company was taken over by misguided investors who drove it into bankruptcy in the early nineties.

In walks a young brand-maker with a golden touch named Stefan Pierer who scoops up KTM in 1991 for an adjusted $7 million. “The quality at the time was so poor we were mocked,” he told Bloomberg. “But every crisis is also an opportunity.”

KTM sales success began with the 660 Rally
KTM first won the prestigious Paris Dakar Rally in 2001 with the 660 Rally and hasn’t stopped winning since.

Today the company builds as many bikes in a single week as it did the entire first year Pierer was on board, topping 261,000 unit sales for 2018. His revamp began with a razor-sharp focus on the off-road market, tossing out the original scooter and street line. He also knew a racing effort would be important and by 2001 KTM had conquered the Dakar and has remained undefeated ever since.

Right around that same time the company brought back its street line headlining sophisticated, hard-core play bikes which today account for about 1/2 of sales. In a move Bloomberg Businessweek heralds as one of CEO Pierer’s wisest, KTM partnered with India’s giant, Bajaj Auto Ltd, in 2007 trading technology for a very inexpensive manufacturing hub, not to mention access to its massive dealership network there.

Most recently Pierer gained kudos for rescuing and rebranding the Husqvarna line after BMW muddled its own go at Husky resurrection. Now KTM’s fearless leader is itching to acquire Volkswagen-owned Ducati and would also like a chance to rebrand now-stagnate Triumph in order to solidify Europe’s cache as a motorcycle producer.

The Big Picture

Indeed it’s all one big happy dance until perspective comes into play. In the big picture KTM is still small potatoes on the global stage, a speck in the shadow of Honda’s 20 million bikes sold for 2018 and barely a blip for number two, Yamaha, with 5.4m unit sales. The number three spot, currently held by Kawasaki, feels within reach for Pierer however, who believes that by 2022 his sales will be in the 400,000 unit range.

Another ‘buzz kill’ is the fact that in actual revenue, Harley-Davidson made way more bank – over 5 billion in pricey bike sales and especially its branded kit, compared to KTM’s 1.75 billion. BMW also raked in more revenue on fewer units with $2.4 billion in sales.

Though Harley’s core customer is aging out and the tariff-riddled maker as-of-yet has no Asian partner to help lower manufacturing costs, it is launching some innovative designs, including a well-publicized E-model, the LiveWire — and because the ADV market is so hot — the Pan America adventure bike we’re all so darn curious to see.

Harley Davidson Pan America Adventure Motorcycle
Shrinking sales has Harley-Davidson looking for a revamp of the brand with new ventures like the upcoming Pan America Adventure Bike.

Pierer is likewise looking to electric energy for the future of KTM saying “E-bikes are becoming a huge deal. The market has exploded, and as a large manufacturer, you have to be there.” Though he has also brought up concerns about manufacturing costs and the safety of sitting on that much high voltage, he says that by 2025 he expects one quarter of KTM’s revenue to come from E-mopeds and other electric two-wheelers.

As Europe’s rising star expands its product line and aggressively targets Asia’s vast market we’re bound to see more podium finishes on KTM’s business side. Surely not as fun to watch its victories in racing, but satisfying still to see such hard work rewarded.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

Jamie has been a motorcycle journalist for more than 30 years, testing the entire range of bikes for the major print magazines and specializing in adventure-travel related stories. To date she’s written and supplied photography for articles describing what it’s like to ride in all 50 states and 43 foreign countries, receiving two Lowell Thomas Society of American Travel Writer’s Awards along the way. Her most-challenging adventure yet has been riding in the 2018 GS Trophy in Mongolia as Team AusAmerica’s embedded journalist.

Author: Jamie Elvidge

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11 thoughts on “KTM Beats Both BMW and Harley-Davidson in Global Unit Sales

  1. I am pretty sure my Harley riding father in law has spent more money on HD accessories, Tshirts, pins, jackets,etc than he has spent on actual motorcycles.( he buys those used)

  2. I remember in 02 and 03 when my son raced for the KTM amateur team. They told all the parents at Loretta’s that they expected to dominate the off-road/MX market within 10 years. They did that. The Jap manufacturers better look out if they have that same mentality for the street/adv side.

  3. I purchased a new KTM 1090 R Adventure last week. I gave this purchase a ton of thought, read 1000s of pages and rode multiple bikes. Nothing comes close to the KTM 1090 R Adventure’s performance for the pricepoint for my style of riding out here in Oregon. I added a set of OEM handguards, an OEM skid plate and rode Jeep trails from southern Oregon to CA with a huge grin on my face and without a single issue. I rode the freeway back to Portland with 1 hand on the handlebars in the fast lane in 6th gear comfy as you like: 0 buyer’s remorse.

    I looked closely at the AT and the GS’s, but getting one of those geared up to go offroad (suspension/protection) just felt like a sunken cost fallacy in comparison to the 1090 R. Lots of great bikes out there, but the KTM was just the right fit for me and my wallet.

  4. Sadly there was no mention of John Penton in this article. KTM would not be where it is today if John Penton had not convinced them to build the Penton off road bikes in the late 1960s and 1970s.

  5. It’s not something that BMW have to worry about cause after the 25-30.000km most of the KTM owners trade their bikes for a boxer BMW…its simple mathematics…there where the other bikes give up, BMW starts…

    • Really ? You’re one of those people who is STILL stuck on that “KTM is unreliable/tempermental/delicate/short-lived narrative ?

      The fact is that KTMs deliver terrific reliability and long-legged endurance, and they do it while weighing 10% to 20% less than most comparable Japanese and German motorcycles.

      Have you ever heard of Aaron Steinman ? ? ? He’s a Kiwi who’s been doing a round-the-world tour for several years now on a 2016 500 EXC-F. He wanted to tear down his engine before he left Europe and took off across Asia, just to see how things looked because he had put 62,000 MILES ON IT (for those of you in communist countries, that’s 103,000 Km).

      That’s right: 62,000 miles on a single-cylinder, high-performance dirtbike.

      Take your stupidity about KTMs and bugger off.

      • And who the hell wants to go ADV riding on a bike that weighs 500+ pounds anyway ? ? ? ? ? Are you kidding me ?

        Do you realize how many places you can go on a bike that weighs 325 pounds or less that you CAN’T go on a 500+ pound motorcycle ? The EXC-F weighs 244 pounds without fuel — less than HALF of what a 1200GS weighs.

        Sorry, but my idea of adventure touring doesn’t involve long stretches of pavement or long stretches above 50MPH or riding around on the motorcycle equivalent of the Tiger tank.

        If that’s your bag, more power to ya, but that’s way too insulated from the surroundings for me.

  6. I just bought a 2019 KTM 1090 Adv R after riding over 30k on a KLR. I thought long and hard about the purchase over a period of 2 years, and I just couldn’t find a better bike for Oregon dual sport/ADV riding. It’s just a phenomenal vehicle to ride compared to my KLR and the other bikes in that price range.

    A very compelling reason why I went with KTM over other brands is that KTM bikes are race ready; I didn’t have to spend $1300 on crash bars from aftermarket sources. My bike has been dropped hard several times already and that KTM OEM crash protection is doing a fine job. I did have to buy the KTM Barkbusters and oil pan guard, but they were both less than a name-brand aftermarket pan guard alone.


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