TWMX All Access: Scot Harden

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This week, we sat down with KTM USA’s VP Media Relations, Scot Harden, to find out a little about how KTM went from being just another obscure European brand to one that’s challenging the traditional big four Japanese manufacturers.

Scot’s had a serious background as a racer, as a two-time SCORE International champ, three-time Baja 1000 Overall winner, a three-time Baja 500 Overall winner, and a three-time ISDE medalist (including being a part of the U.S. Trophy team that finished second in 1982).

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TransWorld Motocross: What are some of the things that KTM has done over the last few years to jump forward and compete with the four Japanese brands?

Scot Harden: I think you’d have to go back to around ’96 or ’97 when we started to push. We had new ownership of the factory, and they really started pushing the product development of the bikes and started innovating and bringing new products to the marketplace. We started with the Sport Minicycle line, and that really kind of captured us with the youth market and really helped us develop strongly there. Then our really good 125 finally came out in ’98. When the all-new 125 hit the market, that was really successful.

From then on it’s just been a really aggressive product development cycle, leading up to the racing four-strokes that we now have that are right in there with Honda and Yamaha in terms of performance and innovation.

We’ve innovated, we thing young, we think fresh, and we’ve brought new products to the marketplace. As we’ve done that, the company has grown and grown, and we’ve got the resources that we keep dumping back into the company for promotions, new racing programs and different things. It kind of all just layered on top of itself.

TWMX: KTM sure seems to have filled a lot of niches over the years with various odd-sized models, like the 200 SX.

SH: KTM has always been a niche marketing company from the beginning, and that’s the way we’ve survived against the Japanese. We’ve made products that they didn’t. We took little pieces of the market here and there. As we’ve grown to become successful in mainstream markets like our 125 is now against the Japanese—we outsell some of the Japanese on the 125 now—we haven’t turned our back on the niche markets because those have grown as well. So there’s a strategy here, where while we’ve maintained our niche marketing strategy because it’s successful and serves us well, it’s allowed us to build a base to go after the really broad big mainstream markets as well, which we didn’t have before.

Then on top of that, we’ve got the off-road stuff, and you throw in the new 950 we have that’s going toward the street market, now the picture’s really starting to develop.

TWMX: You said last year there were only limited quantities of the 200 SX, but you expected that to grow for 2004. How big a percentage jump will you make in that one this year?

SH: I don’t have the exact numbers, but it will be significant. We’re bringing in several hundred of those this year because it was so popular. With the 200 it’s hard, because people wonder what class it fits into. Well, when we first came out with the 300 KTM, no one could gure that out, but vets loved it. It was the perfect vet class bike. With the 200, the vets love that, too. Not only the vets, but I think for an up-and-coming riders emerging from the 125 class, that’s a great way to go. It’s a step in between.

Now they’re eligible for the 250 class that’s light, feels just like their 125. There’s no adjustment, it’s not a big four-stroke that they have to figure out how to start. It’s easy, and has the power to run with the 250s. For example, when my own son moves up from the 125 to a 250, he’ll be riding a 200 SX. It’s just that good a bike.

TWMX: One question you’ve got to be hearing is, where is your 250F model?

SH: We have a 250F in development, and we’ve raced a it a few times this year. More work is being done on it. I think you’ll see it at the latest as a 2005 model. Till that comes out, we’re really aggressive about the 125 market. We still think that there’s a huge market there for that. Again, thinking of younger riders that are coming into the 125 market, a 250 four-stroke is too much bike for them. For one, they can’t start it. It’s too hard to start. That makes it difficult. Two, they’re twice as much maintenance as a two-stroke, and the cost factor involved.

So we’re really very aggressive in talking about the continued strength in the 125 market. In fact, we hope all the Japanese throw all their eggs into that 250 four-stroke basket right away, because we believe that the 125, and we’re proving it out on the national circuit, is still extremely competitive.

TWMX: KTM’s West Coast offices are making some big moves next year. What can you tell us about that?

SH: The company has grown and we need a new building and facility that is in the same status as a big five company. Our main headquarters is in Ohio. Our western office is dedicated to pro racing, media relations, and different activities. We need to have a new facility for that. We researched all of Southern California, and Temecula was the place to be. It’s where the sport is right now, it’s the epicenter of the motocross world, if you will. Temecula, Menifee, Murrieta. All the top riders are out there. We have our own test track approved to be on the grounds. Everything is there to make a major move, and Temecula’s the place we want to be. We’ll have a real nice new facility, and it’ll be online about a year from now…June or July next year. It’ll be really cool.

TWMX: We’d also heard that you were trying to attract other manufacturers to the area.

SH: We actually have a sister development project going in across the street just for that. We call it Moto Vista. It’s a commercial development designed to attract other motocross and off-road motorcycle companies into that area. Temecula’s the place to be.

TWMX: Is that an investment for KTM?

SH: It’s an investment that’s affiliated to us is all I can say. It’s not directly a KTM investment, but some KTM people are involved.

TWMX: The KTM Jr. Supercross Challenge has been a huge thing for you guys. How did that develop?

SH: It was certainly a company effort across the board. From the guys at the factory developing this all new line of mini bikes that would work for that application, to the guys at Clear Channel for having the foresight to say, “Hey, we’re tired of having disc jockeys at intermission, and people pushing tire around the track.” I saw the timing was right for it, we had the product that was right for it, and we pulled all the pieces together and developed the concept. Everything from the structure to the rider selection process. We launched that in January of ’97, and it’s been a huge success ever since. It’s viable even today.

TWMX: Is that continuing?

SH: Yes, we just signed a new three-year contract. Originally, it was only going to be a two-year program and it was going to be out, but it became to popular, and so important to KTM that now we’re going to be in our eighth or ninth year with it. It’s something that we’ll all look back on when it’s all over, and say, “That’s something that we did.” It’s an immense source of pride.

TWMX: Did that cause any heart attacks when the little guy jumped a double at Salt Lake City last year?

SH: Well, every time the kids roll out onto the track we’re always worried about safety. We’ve never had any kid seriously hurt…we’ve had some broken bones here or there, and we’re very nervous about the safety issue. Watching the kid do the double at Salt Lake City definitely raised all our blood pressures. We knew it was inevitable, and we just hope that now that it’s been done, nobody feels like they have to do it again.

TWMX: What’s next for KTM?

SH: The street market, and the Supermoto market. We just got back from Laguna Seca where KTM did very well up there. We swept the KTM Unlimited division, and placed second in the 450 class. We have a whole new line of Supermoto bikes coming out this fall, already in production that will be in the marketplace. That, and the new 950 Adventure that we’re developing, along with our Dakar program that we’re doing as a way to really launch that hard in America.

We’re going to start going after those markets. The Supermoto’s a niche, but we’re there.

TWMX: What’s your read on Supermoto?

SH: It’s gonna happen. It’s coming. It’s very popular in Europe. It’s easy to do. The key to the whole thing is once facilities start to develop where you can practice it. Where we have Perris, and guys are going out there. You’re going to see a lot of karting facilities transform into Supermoto. Think of it. For motocross, we have eight tracks in Southern California to go riding at, but only one Supermoto track. Just think when they start springing up. You don’t need a lot of space to do them. It’s going to be really popular, and there’s no way around it, the motocross side of things is going to really have to come to terms with it, because the motocross stars are the guys that are going to have the best chance to dominate.

It’s coming, and I think it’s exciting.

TWMX: Who is the customer for Supermoto bikes?

SH: I think the customer for that bike is a street rider who wants to do more with his motorcycle than just sit on it. He really wants to ride the darn thing, rather than being a passenger on it. I think young guys are going to be attracted to it. Young guys that have a background where they came from dirt and went into street. Let’s face it, most guys get their first taste of motorcycles in the dirt and then go into street riding. I think there’s a ton of older motocross guys and off-road guys that see this as a chance for another career in racing.

I think you’re going to see all the people that were attracted…so you’ll have motocross guys, and dirt track racing and all this, they’re going to coalesce here. I think in five years you’re going to step back and go, “Whoa, Supermoto’s really huge.”

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program and it was going to be out, but it became to popular, and so important to KTM that now we’re going to be in our eighth or ninth year with it. It’s something that we’ll all look back on when it’s all over, and say, “That’s something that we did.” It’s an immense source of pride.

TWMX: Did that cause any heart attacks when the little guy jumped a double at Salt Lake City last year?

SH: Well, every time the kids roll out onto the track we’re always worried about safety. We’ve never had any kid seriously hurt…we’ve had some broken bones here or there, and we’re very nervous about the safety issue. Watching the kid do the double at Salt Lake City definitely raised all our blood pressures. We knew it was inevitable, and we just hope that now that it’s been done, nobody feels like they have to do it again.

TWMX: What’s next for KTM?

SH: The street market, and the Supermoto market. We just got back from Laguna Seca where KTM did very well up there. We swept the KTM Unlimited division, and placed second in the 450 class. We have a whole new line of Supermoto bikes coming out this fall, already in production that will be in the marketplace. That, and the new 950 Adventure that we’re developing, along with our Dakar program that we’re doing as a way to really launch that hard in America.

We’re going to start going after those markets. The Supermoto’s a niche, but we’re there.

TWMX: What’s your read on Supermoto?

SH: It’s gonna happen. It’s coming. It’s very popular in Europe. It’s easy to do. The key to the whole thing is once facilities start to develop where you can practice it. Where we have Perris, and guys are going out there. You’re going to see a lot of karting facilities transform into Supermoto. Think of it. For motocross, we have eight tracks in Southern California to go riding at, but only one Supermoto track. Just think when they start springing up. You don’t need a lot of space to do them. It’s going to be really popular, and there’s no way around it, the motocross side of things is going to really have to come to terms with it, because the motocross stars are the guys that are going to have the best chance to dominate.

It’s coming, and I think it’s exciting.

TWMX: Who is the customer for Supermoto bikes?

SH: I think the customer for that bike is a street rider who wants to do more with his motorcycle than just sit on it. He really wants to ride the darn thing, rather than being a passenger on it. I think young guys are going to be attracted to it. Young guys that have a background where they came from dirt and went into street. Let’s face it, most guys get their first taste of motorcycles in the dirt and then go into street riding. I think there’s a ton of older motocross guys and off-road guys that see this as a chance for another career in racing.

I think you’re going to see all the people that were attracted…so you’ll have motocross guys, and dirt track racing and all this, they’re going to coalesce here. I think in five years you’re going to step back and go, “Whoa, Supermoto’s really huge.”

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