EXCLUSIVE: How Norton went from rock bottom to fighting fit in just 12 months

In a frank and friendly interview with Visordown, the new Norton Motorcycles Interim CEO revealed some of the secrets of the turnaround

Norton V4 RR fuel tank

NORTON Motorcycles has endured its fair share of headlines over the past 12 months but from a bleak situation, the firm is now courting considerably more positive publicity as it heads into 2021 with a fresh outlook.

Indeed, the landscape could not be any more different; staff have been taken on, motorcycles are being readied for manufacture and the final pieces of the puzzle are beginning to fall into place.

Norton Commando Moto Corse custom

Moto Corse Norton Commando Custom | Tokyo Motorcycle Show 2019

Despite the best efforts of a global pandemic and ever-changing regulations, 2020 actually didn’t seem to set back the Norton team’s efforts at reviving the brand.

“If somebody had said at the start ‘you’ve got to do that [revive Norton] from home, off a computer screen’ you’d say forget it! But we’ve found a way through it,” John Russell, Interim CEO of Norton Motorcycles, told Visordown.

“Apart from the logistical issues of doing it externally, getting parts to a certain place, building a trial bike, we’ve obviously got some physical interruptions. I don’t think the other aspects are materially delayed. I think most things we managed to do, including recruiting people, onboarding them, and getting them focussed on the things that need to be done.”

Norton's previous home at the Donington Hall site. The building was an office complex turned into a production facility.

Moreover, it’s not just the bikes that needed the attention of the team at Norton. Having left the Donington Hall HQ that had been the home of Norton since 2008, a new base needed to be found, and one that was befitting of a global motorcycle brand.

“We are coming to the end of the fit-out of our new building, and we’ve managed to do that in pretty much close to record time.

“The previous facility [Donington Hall] was an odd place, not the first choice for a global motorcycle brand as a place to do business. It was basically an office building adapted to be a production area and obviously evolved. It wasn’t particularly suitable, so we knew from the very start we’d have to get into a different building.

“For the long term we’d want to build a very large scale building that will do everything, but in the short term, we needed to find a place where we can get the first stage of growth under our belts and get the brand under way. And that’s what we have done with the facility in Solihull.”

With this soon-to-completed HQ now in place, the next phases of the rebirth can begin. But before any of the flagship models can roll off the line, Russell explained that there was a more pressing matter that needed addressing.

Much of the news regarding Norton was - in the early days of the collapse - a torrent of negative energy, solely aimed at the previous administration. One of the biggest mountains John and new owners TVS have to climb is turning that negative feeling into a positive outcome for existing and potential customers.

With that in mind, the first bikes to be completed at the Solihull base will be classically-styled Commando models ordered by customers but as yet unfulfilled. Once that pool of customers have their bikes and are happy, then Norton will focus its efforts on the flagship V4 machines, with a ready-made order book already filling up fast.

He also confirmed that new models could be arriving much sooner than anyone had thought possible.

“We have basically said ‘how do we deal with what’s in the bag?’, the V4 SS order bank, we’d announced the V4 RR, we’d announced the Atlas range, neither of which were ready for production, in terms of engineering and development, but they were conceptually bikes ready to go. So, we’re just about to roll out the first of the limited run of Commandoes, just to close the books on that generation of bike and to look after the customers who had orders. We like the idea of building the end-of-line and small series bikes, to honour the heritage.

“The V4 SS order bank, we’re close to getting into production those, we’ve been working on that most of this year, and hope to get those into the market the early part of next year. We have some more to sell of those too because that bike was announced as a limited series. We didn’t at the time take orders for the whole series, so there will be some of those available for sale.

“But in parallel, we are working on finalising the engineering development program for the V4 RR and the Atlas product range that was announced back around 12 months ago. And we hope to see those bikes by the end of next year.

“They’ve required a lot of work, I think like the bike and car industry, they got in the habit of over the years announcing products way before they were ready, just to keep whetting the customer’s appetites! Sometimes those time lags between announcement and availability get quite extended and that’s what’s happened with the RR and the Atlas.”

While the future does indeed sound rosy for the company, the really hard work is yet to come. Delivering on promises for any brand is tough enough, for a company with a history so rich and varied as Norton’s, it’s even tougher.

I do genuinely believe there are now the right people in the right jobs to make it happen. John Russell seems to be a man that is going to say it as it is, without bluff or conjecture, and who above all knows what it takes to complete a task like this.

There is also one phrase from our chat that really stood out and made me realise that John knows that this is not just another motorcycle brand that he’s here to perform CPR on.

He said: ‘Our whole ambition is to make Norton in the present and future what it could always have been from its past.’ A fitting phrase that perfectly sums up the task ahead for John and his team.

This is the first article forming a three-part feature on the revival of the Norton brand. The next installment focuses on the firm’s racing ambitions, with the full transcript of the interview following on after that.

For more information on the Norton range, head to: nortonmotorcycles.com