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Norton is now ‘fit for the future’

Massive TVS investment at new Solihull factory.

The biggest upheaval in the long and tumultuous history of Norton is well underway. In a large, converted warehouse factory just off the M42 in Solihull, the Norton brand is being rebuilt from scratch by a start-up staff of more than 140. The Norton Motorcycles building is imposing on the outside and fitted out inside with ultra-modern facilities, evidence of big spending on top of the reputed £16m paid in 2020 for the trademark and assets by TVS Motor Co. Support has come from the UK government and West Midlands Growth.

Said to have the capacity for producing 8000 motorcycles a year, the plant is home to Norton design, engineering, purchasing, sales, marketing and customer support. A dealer network is planned for the UK and the rest of the world.

Dr Robert Hentschel, who took over as CEO from interim boss John Russell last May, has a biking background and was previously with car manufacturing specialist Valmet. He told a press gathering invited to view the new plant that a 10-year product plan is already in place.

“Norton is now fit for the future,” he said. “It is a powerful and prestigious brand. Our new models will be built to the most exacting standards, combining modernity with Norton values of simplicity and elegance.”

Building a Commando Classic twin in the yet-to-be-filled assembly area

Inevitably there will be electric machines in the mix and range development will take at least two years, although Dr Hentschel said surprises could be expected at the end of 2022. Meanwhile, Norton has boldly opted to thoroughly rework the mechanically troublesome 961 twins and 1200cc V-fours developed in the 2008-2020 Donington era rather than let them fade from public view.

In the case of the V-four, re-engineering is crucial since Donington era machines are notoriously kept off the road due to multiple technical defects, some potentially lethal. Everything down to nuts and bolts is being examined, while components are now made to exacting standards by trusted suppliers instead of simply being shipped in from China. Full engine tests are still in progress.

“We don’t trust anything,” head of quality Chris Temple, formerly with Aston Martin told BDN. “We are even making new drawings.” The reworked, highly-priced four is sold as the Norton V4SV and a special derivative will feature at Motorcycle Live. Until the considerable work needed to make Nortons Euro 5 compliant is completed, they will go through the Single Vehicle Application (SVA) loophole.

Owners of grounded V4s are being offered deals on the new models, although Norton is not legally obliged to compensate Donington customers. Rights to the twin-cylinder engine were sold to Jinlang in late 2019, which could make the future of 961 Commando models uncertain.

A factory tour underlines how far-removed sophisticated Solihull is from ramshackle Donington. Welding in the frame shop is totally different, with tube from a new supplier, cut sections used to analyse welds and a consistent, standardised technique demanded from every welder, some of whom are ex-Donington. The engine building room is temperature-controlled, ceiling filters remove particles from the air and parts go through three stages of pressurised ultrasound washing, plus drying, before assembly. Bearing fitment and application of sealant is totally automated. The current three machine assembly stations will multiply as staffing and shifts are stepped up. After a rolling road test, complete bikes are checked in two inspection bays and any rectifications dealt with, when customers can watch. A ‘craftsmanship review’ audit, including a road test, will be used for first-offs, random quality checks, and addressing customer issues.

Norton is, at last, getting the investment, quality control and stability it needs to become a credible world-leading brand.

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