Norton: the road and race re-birth

| | World News

In a bid to recapture some of the glory days of world-beating road and race bike success of the 50s and 60s, Norton has opened a brand-new state-of-the-art factory in Solihull. BSN went along to take a look, and hear more about the reborn brand’s big ambitions for the future.

The rights to the then ailing Norton brand were bought by massive Indian TVS Motor Company in early 2020, with the subsequent multi-million investment underlining the firm’s serious intentions.

All key factors to mass bike production are in place at the new factory. No machines have been completed yet, but every one of the anticipated annual build of 8000, will have been designed, developed and assembled in the west Midlands plant.

It really does look a very impressive facility, with some of the most up to date tooling and production techniques in place to manufacture what Norton claim will be some of the finest motorcycles available.

New CEO Dr. Robert Hentschel says they’ll feature ‘the most exacting standards of craftsmanship.’ Initially, production of the revamped 961 Commando Classic, and limited-edition £44,000 V4 SV superbike models will resume. Though thankfully, these bikes will be incomparable in terms of quality and reliability to those produced more recently under the controversial, and ultimately doomed leadership of Norton’s previous owner, Stuart Garner.

In a bid to help repair the damaged reputation that wayward stewardship may have caused, anyone with a previously produced ‘defective’ V4 SS can part ex that bike for a new Solihull-produced V4 SV for £10,000.

You won’t be able to buy those new superbikes until the summer of 2022, by which time other new machines of a ‘truly exceptional and unique nature’ should be in production. They’ll eventually include electrically powered models aimed at paving the way for Norton’s future and attracting new customers to join the brand’s more traditional fans.

Another V4-derived machine could well be unveiled at the NEC in December. With the Norton name and reputation synonymous with racing, it’s hoped to return to competitive action in the future, but only when the company is more established, and in a position to realistically afford to.

Dr Robert Hentschel, Norton’s chief, speaks:

How did you become involved with Norton?
“I gave up a successful automotive career with Lotus, where I was for eleven years, to get involved with Norton. It’s an exciting project I’m proud to be part of. I own a 2016 961 Commando, which I bought after visiting the old factory on a business trip. I have emotions for British, iconic brands.

Is everything going to plan?
“We’re currently testing the engine of the new V4 SV extensively, and are in the final stages of that. We want to deal with existing Norton customers first, and when that’s complete, we expect the new bike will be on sale in mid-2022. We want Norton to be unique. We need volume to be profitable, but we don’t want to produce bikes that will be compared to others in the press. It’s not just about having the performance, it’s also about other attributes and the attractiveness of the product as something new. We need to attract young customers, so we need a lifestyle for Norton.

What sort of bikes will Norton produce?
“We will go our own way. We don’t want to position Norton as producing only premium bikes, we want to position Norton as premium luxury! Our bikes will be in the supersport and classic sectors at the upper end of quality and price. Of course, the future is difficult to predict because we don’t know how impending legislation will impact our engine portfolio. I’m a petrol head and also very enthusiastic about electric motors.

Do you have ambitions to go racing?
“The DNA of Norton is racing. My heart beats for the TT. I’ve followed it since I was a boy, as I’m a big bike fan. The Norton brand is strong. It needs to be rebooted, but if you have to make a choice between being profitable or going racing, I would prefer being profitable first. We have to find a balance. We don’t want Norton to go bankrupt.

How much is being invested by TVS?
‘It is not my style to talk about money. But all I’ll say is, our efforts are, and will continue to be immense. We will use the very best components to get the best quality in the bikes.”