KTM is an Austrian motorcycle company. Originally it produced only off-road bikes, but now it also makes ATVs / quads and road orientated machines, all focused on the enthusiast end of the motorbike market - there are no retro-cruisers, scooters or large screened tourers in the KTM range.
In the summer of 2005, this hardcore motorbike company, along with their design partner of 14 years, Kiska, embarked on a research project, which within 6 months saw them committed to adding a sports car to their range. This is the unique story of how that car, the remarkable X-Bow, came to be.
Following the launch of the KTM X-Bow at the Geneva Motor Show, Car Design News spoke with Stefan Pierer, CEO of KTM, and Gerald Kiska CEO of Kiska, and heard how this extreme, minimalist, mid-engined sports car was born of a project that originally looked specifically at a road-orientated quad-type bike for the European market.
Initiated in the summer of 2005, by August the Kiska design team realised that the high centre of gravity inherent in the quad configuration meant that this type of product would lack sufficient stability to be safe enough for high speed road use. The brief was redefined to be: as minimalist as an ATV / quad, to have the acceleration of a motorbike, and to have the driving dynamics of a race car. Under Sebastian Stassin, head of Transportation Design at Kiska, the team began to sketch designs which, whilst clearly motorbike-like in their aesthetic, had similar proportions to a contemporary small mid-engined sports car such as a Lotus Elise. There were some alternative Beach Buggy-style proposals and ideas using aluminium frames, but the team quickly settled on an initial direction by Martin Petersson that featured a carbon fiber tub and the motorbike-style exterior with floating panels.
In parallel to these formative steps taking place in the Kiska studio in Austria, some senior Audi engineers with a passion for motorbikes had been in talks with KTM about possible collaboration in some new project. They were introduced to the X-Bow project in September 2005 and immediately took a central role in powertrain, body structure and other technical issues during the early development phase - to such an extent that for the Kiska design team "it was an open scenario at this stage - it could have been either an Audi or a KTM, they were involved in all aspects of the vehicle's engineering - way beyond the engine" as Stassin explained to Car Design News.
In December 2005 the Audi engineers reluctantly recognised that the X-Bow concept was too far divorced from their brand to be produced as an Audi. They moved away from a central technical role, but maintained their support for the powertrain to the extent that it will be possible to service an X-Bow at selected Audi dealerships.
At this stage, in the spring of 2006 and with a full-size clay developed on a technically feasible package, the Kiska team approached the Italian racing car company, Dallara, to replace Audi in the role of technical support. With extensive experience in developing F1, F3, sports endurance and Indy cars, and specific production car experience with the use of carbon fiber in the Bugatti Veyron, Dallara was a perfect fit. Initially they were alarmed by the form of the KTM car which, with its open cockpit and many faceted panels, was inherently a design with poor aerodynamics: "When we presented it to them they got pretty scared I have to admit!" Stassin told us.