The head of Swiss sports bike maker KTM, which claims to be the world's No 1 premium motorbike brand and also sells tens of hundreds of e-bikes in Europe, is not confident of the capability of electric vehicles beyond a point and feels that optimism on this front is "highly overrated".
KTM, which is primarily into high-end racing bikes, has a 50.1:49.9 manufacturing JV with Bajaj Auto. It will also be selling the electric model of the resurrected iconic Chetak scooters from the Bajaj stable in Europe from the first quarter of 2024. "The whole scope and capability of the concept of electric vehicle mobility is highly overrated.
It's the result of mixing the laws of physics incorrectly and also by mis-reading the laws of energy," Stefan Pierer, the chief executive of Pierer Mobility that owns the KTM brand, told a select group of journalists at a media roundtable here. "I know it isn't easy to tell and convince the politicians about the sheer impracticality of attempting to make high-end EV bikes," he said, adding it needs 10x more storage space in the EV segment to generate energy that one litre of gasoline can produce.
For a bike, which is a highly space crunched product, how can one expect it to carry 600-700 kg of batteries, he wondered. For the same reason, he said, it is not possible for sports or high-end bikes to run on electricity. It is not feasible for high-powered bikes to run on electric engines.
This is because the weight of the battery required to generate equivalent power of a gasoline engine would be too high, he pointed out. Another factor capping the scope of EVs is the exorbitantly high cost of battery components. Prices of lithium-ion battery components have soared five-six times in the recent past as a result of the higher demand and government push to switch to electric mobility.
But it is not easy to drive these points to politicians, he remarked. However, Pierer was quick to admit that EVs as a tool for urban/city mobility is easily doable and will continue to grow and that is the reason why the company also makes low-end bikes for the segment. On launch of the e-Chetak from Bajaj Auto in Europe from 2024, he said the scooter is a great product, especially its second version, and such vehicles which are purely for city commute stand to gain from the EV push.
The e-Chetak, especially the second generation, is a great commuter product for a market like Europe. If everything goes as planned we should be selling this e-scooter in Europe from early 2024, he added. Pierer was speaking to reporters here last Friday when the JV plant rolled out the 1 millionth KTM bike from the Chakan plant. The Bajaj KTM tie-up began in October 2007 and the first bike was rolled out in 2011. The company makes lower-capacity KTMs and the sub-400 cc Husqvarna models at the Chakan unit.
The KTM-Bajaj partnership may explore bringing in more mid-range models in the 600-690 cc range, Pierer said. The Chetak, named after the legendary horse of the great warrior Maharana Pratap, was produced from 1972 onwards. It had a waiting period of up to 10 years in 1980s. Bajaj sold over 5,00,000 units by 1983, and around 100 million units by 1995. But by 2004, the company under the present management led by Rajiv Bajaj discontinued the Chetak.
The iconic scooter, that was a household name, made a comeback in October 2019 in the EV form and since then has sold around 25,000 units at price tag of Rs 1.4 lakh. Bajaj Auto's wholly-owned subsidiary, Chetak Technology, has set up an electric vehicle plant in Akurdi, near Pune. Bajaj had acquired a 14.5 per cent stake in the Austrian bike maker in 2007. Over the years, Bajaj's stake has grown to 49.9 per cent in KTM's parent company Pierer AG.