Like many motorcycle brands, KTM had a challenging 2020, with sales shrinking in the face of COVID-19 and the economic toll it exacted. The Austrian brand sold 212,713 motorcycles through the year, a 9.3% decrease from the pre-pandemic world of 2019.
Despite the decrease in orange bikes, not to mention a two-month interruption in motorcycle production, parent company Pierer Mobility actually saw an increase in market share, thanks in large part to its other two motorcycle brands: Husqvarna and GasGas. Husqvarna sales increased from 45,650 units in 2019 to 49,046 units in 2020, while GasGas sold 8,648 motorcycles in its first full year as part of Pierer Mobility. That wasn’t quite enough to make up the 21,736 decrease in KTM sales, but it did help cushion the blow.
A History Lesson
Pierer Industries acquired Husqvarna in 2013, purchasing the Swedish brand from BMW. At the time, Pierer Industries also owned Husaberg, another Swedish brand that splintered off of Husqvarna when the company was acquired by Cagiva in 1988. Pierer then merged the two tre kronor brands under the Husqvarna name.
In 2015, KTM was reportedly in discussions to purchase GasGas after the Spanish brand filed for bankruptcy. Employees of GasGas were, shall we say, less than welcoming. The Torrot Group stepped in instead to keep GasGas afloat, but that only lasted a couple of years before the brand met financial trouble once more. This time, Pierer Industries stepped up and purchased a 60% share of GasGas in 2019. In July 2020, Pierer Industries, now renamed Pierer Mobility, acquired the remaining 40%, assuming full control over GasGas, adding it completely to its portfolio alongside Husqvarna and KTM.
Pierer Mobility’s three-brand approach, sharing technology across its Orange, White and Red brands, holds a unique place in the industry.
We’ve seen this more often in the automotive industry, with companies like General Motors, which controls sub-brands Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC, or Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, which includes U.S. brands Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Ram plus Italian marques Abarth, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, and Maserati. You also have automakers splintering a luxury brand from the main company, like Toyota and Lexus, or Honda and Acura.
In the motorcycle world, the closest comparison is the Piaggio Group, which include Aprilia, Vespa, Moto Guzzi, Derbi, and Gilera. While there is a lot of shared technology across Piaggio’s scooters, its motorcycles, most notably Aprilia and Moto Guzzi, have completely different engine philosophies.
With KTM, Husqvarna, and GasGas, each brand offers similar models, sharing nearly identical engines and frames. It’s easy to assume their products are all the same, just with different colors and graphics, but Pierer Mobility makes some changes to differentiate between its three brands.
KTM remains the company’s main brand, and it’s where we usually see the results of the company’s R&D first. Historically the oldest of the three brands, Husqvarna is its premium marque, but not at the expense of accessibility. Husqvarna’s streetbikes in particular draw on a different aesthetic, balancing modern design with a retro vibe.
As Pierer Mobility describes it, “every motorcycle in the [Husqvarna] range is trimmed to the bare essence of the necessary functionalithy, yet still attractive, sophisticated, and smart enough to appeal to discerning riders.”
GasGas is a relatively lesser-known brand, previously known most for its trial and enduro bikes. GasGas is positioned as the entry-level (Pierer Mobilty’s word choice is “enabler”) brand, with an emphasis on fun and accessibility. Visiting the websites of all three brands, the writing on GasGas’ site is noticeably more casual and more energetic than the more stoic and technical language on Husqvarna’s and KTM’s websites.
All together, Pierer Mobility’s three brands combine to compete for the title of Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer against its German rival, BMW.
Of the three brands, KTM has the widest product portfolio, with a range of off-road motorcycles and streetbikes. Husqvarna offers a number of dirt bikes but a more limited range of street models, primarily with its Duke-based Vitpilen and Svartpilen nakeds, and it’s expected to add a range of adventure bikes starting with the Norden 901.
Under Pierer Industries, GasGas recently introduced its first motocross models. At one point, Pierer Mobility was considering adding some adventure and naked models to the GasGas lineup, but at the moment, the company positions GasGas as its entry-level off-road brand. Despite only taking over the brand in September 2019, KTM was able to quickly develop and mass produce GasGas motorcycles by leveraging a shared platform with its other two brands.
Looking at just the off-road lineups, KTM still offers the widest range of displacement options. Offerings may differ for each market, but the Austrian brand’s motocrossers include 450, 350, and 250 four-strokes, plus two-strokes in the 250, 150, 125, 85, 65, and 50 classes. Husqvarna’s lineup is similar, but it lacks a 150 two-stroke model. GasGas’ motocross range is even smaller, omitting the 250 and 150 two-strokes as well as the 350 four-stroke.
It’s the same story in the enduro and cross country ranges, with KTM offering a full range and Husqvarna and GasGas having a more selective choice of displacements.
What are the differences between KTM, Husqvarna and GasGas models?
Though all three brands offer similar models, there are some notable differences between them to create some market separation. There’s also a bit of a price difference, with Husqvarna models typically priced $100-$200 higher than their KTM counterparts, while GasGas models can run about $600 cheaper than the equivalent KTM. For example, GasGas’ 450-class motocrosser, the MC 450F, comes in at $9,399 U.S., compared to the $10,199 KTM 450 SX-F and the $10,299 Husqvarna FC 450.
The engines are essentially the same across all three brands, though the exhausts on four-stroke GasGas models lack the resonance chamber on Husqvarna and KTM header pipes. The chromium molybdenum steel frames are the same across brands – with the exception of the orange, blue or red powder coatings, of course – but Husqvarna’s off-road models use carbon fiber composite subframes which it claims weighs just 3.1 pounds. The carbon subframes give Husqvarnas a different weight distribution than the aluminum subframes employed on the KTM and GasGas models.
GasGas models use forged triple clamps instead of the pricier machined triple clamps found on their Swedish and Austrian cousins. GasGas models also do not come standard with bar-mounted engine map switches, though they are available as optional accessories. Further contributing to bring the prices down, GasGas models typically come with Maxxis tires instead of the more expensive Dunlops found on KTMs and Husqvarnas.
Brembo supplies most of the brakes to all three brands except for Husqvarna’s enduros which use Magura brakes. Magura also supplies the clutches for all off-road Husqvarnas, while Brembo is the supplier for KTM and GasGas.
Husqvarna models also use Renthal handlebars whereas KTM and GasGas models use Neken bars. There are also some variations to the fuel tank designs across brands. In the two-stroke 125cc motocross class, for example, the GasGas MC 125 has a 1.8 gallon fuel tank compared to the KTM 125 SX’s 2.0 gallon tank and the Husqvarna TC 125’s 2.1 gallon tank. That’s three different sized fuel tanks on bikes with essentially the same engine and frame.
The bodywork differs between the three brands, with KTM models usually having a more aggressive shape. Husqvarna off-road models also adopt a different airbox cover design with inlet ducts it claims reduces drag and air flow deformation.
All three brands use WP suspension systems, which comes to no surprise as WP is also a subsidiary of Pierer Mobility. Though the components are the same, there are some differences to the internals, tuned for each specific model. Most of KTM’s off-road models have the rear shock connected directly to the swingarm whereas the Husqvarna and GasGas versions use a linkage system.
What about the street bikes?
Of the three brands, KTM offers the widest range of street-legal motorcycles, with a selection of nakeds, adventure bikes, sport-touring, and sportbike models in various displacements. The middleweight 790 Adventure and Duke models have been perennial favorites here at MO, and they look to be superceded by the new 890 models.
Husqvarna’s street lineup actually shrank this year, as the Vitpilen and Svartpilen 701 models were not refreshed to meet Euro 5 restrictions. We expect Husqvarna will replace them with new 901 models at some point, following the release of the Norden 901 adventure bike.
At the moment, GasGas is a purely off-road brand, and Pierer Mobility appears intent to keep it that way. Shortly after GasGas was first acquired, Pierer Mobility prepared a presentation for investors that showed potential naked and adventure models, but the company has since pivoted away from those early sketches.
Still, there remains a possibility of road bikes from GasGas in the future. GasGas recently began competing in international road racing for the first time, entering the 2021 Moto3 World Championship with the Aspar racing team. There’s a natural synergy with a Spanish brand joining a Spanish race team with a pair of Spanish riders, but you have to wonder why an off-road only brand is competing in the highest levels of road racing.
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