How Norton uses a troubled past to plot a bri…
One day there will be a movie about Norton Motorcycles.
It has it all: Historic brand, globally recognized success, murky scandals, heroes, villains… and of course beautiful stars on two wheels.
However, while there’s already a rich catalog of twists to tap from a legacy stretching back 123 years, there’s reason to believe that Norton’s history may still have its greatest stories to come. to tell about.
The idea came to me as I was thinking about how to open this room announcing the official opening of Norton’s new factory and home in Solihull, which is much less a change of location but literally a twinkling beacon which rises from the ashen remains of its (metaphorically) shaved accounts, structure and reputation.
Indeed, Norton is a legendary brand told through myriad ups and downs over its century-plus life, but in February 2020 the story seemed to have come to an unfortunate end amid continuing disastrous financial difficulties. by a brewing scandal involving its former CEO Stuart Garner. That was until the new TVS owners stepped in with a pen that signed over the dotted line and scribbled a thick line across “The End”.
It’s not so much the start of a new chapter for the British brand, but a new volume for a new era.
So it’s only fitting that the company’s new CEO, Dr Robert Hentschel, calls the “new Norton” a “reboot” rather than a rebirth.
While one could see his role as the leader of an arduous road to taking over Norton, the former head of Lotus Engineering – another iconic British marque with a storied history – sees it more as an exciting opportunity. to develop a new franchise. for the brand.
“From a brand perspective, this is a unique opportunity to reboot – not relaunch, because it’s still here, it’s not gone,” he says, speaking from the edge of a sofa, looking forward to begin Visordown’s exclusive pre-opening tour of the company’s shiny new home.
“I ran a much larger company with 1,000 engineers, but it’s not about the size of the organization, it’s about the path. It’s an exciting way to bring it all together, all the ingredients for [an exciting] management task are there. You have to face the problems of yesterday, you have to build a new shell for the future, it has everything.
A window on a transparent Norton
The new factory couldn’t be more different from its former stately home, Donington Hall, where the spiers and grand Tudor architectural signatures have been replaced with clinical edges, creaky flooring and a logical layout. If this reads negatively, it really shouldn’t – Donington Hall is certainly emotional, but logic is what builds bikes and – more pertinently – builds them right.
Indeed, Norton as a company certainly reflected a handsome but tired and flawed mansion. He looked impressive, played on his heritage and was alluring for a visit. But live there and you’ll find the roof leaks, the plumbing needs work, and the bills keep rolling in.
However, the beauty of her new home is only superficial. The new plant gives Norton a forward-looking corporate identity through its simplicity. Large open spaces, a thoughtful floor plan, brand new state-of-the-art machinery to complement the bespoke and bespoke techniques synonymous with the Norton brand, plus the potential for growth.
Then there’s the simple but telling touch found in every workspace – a window.
A deliberate effort to shed a reputation for quality born of at best hopeless, at worst criminal labor practices, the “new” Norton doesn’t want to tell you it’s changed, it wants to show you.
“What we want to show is a new approach to quality – we are open and transparent. Customers will have the opportunity to see the installation and what we have put in place. It is an expression of our quality approach.
“Everything is clear and that’s my approach. Everyone knows where we are, the task we have to accomplish together.
While the legacy of Norton’s recent past is evident in the details of the new factory, it’s safe to say that he wants his new global headquarters to be primarily a statement about where the company is headed. A cocktail of Brexit, COVID and tax issues related to the legacy of a complex situation means that Norton is busy ironing out the final details of long-awaited order fulfillment rather than presenting its model plan.
Norton pledged to complete due diligence to help existing customers forced to repair or cancel their V4 sports bikes after inspections revealed some were not roadworthy, stressing that it assumed a lot of responsibilities even though he didn’t have to.
This means that these customers will have the chance to explore the new base and see for themselves the revised processes and the openness that Norton now hopes will go beyond this period.
The result is a dedicated laboratory to ensure the highest standards of build quality, inspection rooms, testing areas – including destruction testing and a rolling road – as well as a personalized audit inspection that customers can be present and interact with before taking their motorcycle home.
“I would call Norton ‘modern luxury’.
“It’s art, it’s not just movement, it’s something that creates emotion. That’s what people spend extra money on. The whole environment is based on an approach that is tailor-made, it’s craftsmanship. Here, everything is done by hand and every part we put in the vehicles is inspected.
Why Norton’s troubled past will inspire its future
For now, Dr Hentschel is avoiding the old tactic of making promises that couldn’t be kept by refraining from detailing the timetable in which the newly developed Nortons will start producing production capable of building 8,000 motorcycles a year. .
However, the conversations have taken place and there’s a definite plan in place for the next ten years, with the revised V4 SV the first step in its metamorphosis. Nonetheless, a key area that Dr. Hentschel is open about is Norton’s burgeoning commitment to bringing electric motorcycles into the lineup.
While the notion of electric vehicle models draws cynicism from a community sold on the feel, sound and feel of a gas-powered motorcycle, Dr. Hentschel nonetheless sees this timely opportunity for Norton to stop catching up with its behind and dominate a market that, while niche right now, will grow exponentially by legislative decree.
Aligning with Norton’s efforts to reassert itself as a technology innovator without trading its vintage image, while Dr. Hentschel is aware that attitudes towards electrics are challenging, he strongly believes that ‘it can coexist with conventional ICE-equipped Nortons and strengthen the brand globally.
“I love both, I have feelings for both [EV and ICE],” he continues. “I love these classic motorcycles, they are so beautiful – they are like a mechanical watch. But I also like the iWatch.
“You have to have passion for something and I think we can bring both products to market. This will change over time. Right now we will have ICE and over time we will probably be 50% electric.
“I would like to have more than bikes, I would like the lifestyle, a community living the Norton brand. If I look back 10 years from now, I would like to have ICE models and I would like to have beautiful electric motorcycles But they must be exciting.
Even so, Norton’s high-end premium image remains central to any model plan, but this time it wants to complement the classic
“We want to be cutting edge here, but it’s also about the styling of the bike. You have to integrate it in a smart way, I don’t want too much bulk. It has to feel like you want to touch it. It’s a whole product approach and it’s a blend of all the elements, it’s not just one attribute, it’s a blend, that’s what makes it unique.
There’s no escaping Norton’s checkered recent history and while the impact continues to be felt – and will be for a little while yet – the opening of its new headquarters is arguably the biggest step yet towards a better future.
In fact, Norton does not want to ignore the past, but rather exploit it by presenting its clean slate and inviting everyone to enjoy Norton: The Sequel.
(I’m happy to come on board as an assistant producer, by the way…)