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TVS UNVEILS INITIAL PLANS FOR NORTON

Following its all-cash £16m purchase of the bankrupt Norton Motorcycles brand and assets last week, India’s TVS Motor Company was distinctly vague about immediate intentions. But now some firmer moves have emerged. BDN financial editor Roger Willis reports.

Well-known Midlands businessman John Russell has been appointed as interim chief executive of Norton by TVS joint managing director Sudarshan Venu. Russell has a solid motorcycle industry CV, having been MD and vice-president of Harley-Davidson Europe from 1998 to 2007. He subsequently became chief executive of Coventry-based Manganese Bronze, once owner of Norton Villiers Triumph and latterly parent of the London Taxi Company, from 2007 to 2013. 

That enterprise was taken over by Chinese automotive giant Geely Holding. Besides Swedish and UK car brands Volvo and Lotus, plus the black-cab building operation, Geely also features Benelli and Keeway bike manufacturer Qianjiang — a contract manufacturer for Harley-Davidson — in its extensive corporate portfolio. Russell’s current non-executive directorial roles include deputy chairmanship of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford upon Avon.   

TVS supremo Venu’s original announcement of the Norton acquisition had been full of fairly meaningless niceties. “This is a momentous time for us at TVS Motor Company,” he said. “Norton is an iconic British brand celebrated across the world, and presents us with an immense opportunity to scale globally. This transaction is in line with our effort to cater to the aspirations of discerning motorcycle customers. We will extend our full support for Norton to regain its full glory in the international motorcycle landscape.

“Norton will continue to retain its distinctive identity with dedicated and specific business plans. TVS Motor will work closely with customers and employees in building the success and pre-eminence of the Norton Motorcycles brand and we look forward to growing together globally in the years to come.”

But now TVS has revealed a bit more detail. Speaking to Indian automotive trade publication Car and Bike, Venu insisted Norton operations will continue at Castle Donington in the short term, before transferring elsewhere in the vicinity.

“We’re taking over all the employees except a few, which is basically the old management,” Venu explained. “The strong design and assembly team is coming over to us, and we will look to leverage their strength and work with them to deliver more bikes of this storied brand. We will move to another new location very soon, in the same region. The idea is to continue with this very talented team to get the brand back to its original glory, and take it into the future.”

However, it’s patently obvious to seasoned industry observers the two key jewels in Norton’s tarnished crown that TVS has acquired are simply its historic trademarked moniker and a Ricardo-designed 650cc twin-cylinder engine platform for recently launched Atlas models. Together, these will allow it to challenge the similarly ex-pat Royal Enfield brand — and specifically its burgeoning retro Interceptor 650 twin — in both India’s huge domestic market and for export. Volume manufacture anywhere else but at low-cost TVS plants in Tamil Nadu makes no sense whatsoever. Norton’s rump presence on UK soil is likely be confined to R&D and maybe very limited assembly. Don’t expect to see the Norton V4 superbike’s reappearance any time soon. 

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