Exclusive: TVS Ensuring Norton Is On Path To Success, Says Interim CEO

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Iconic British motorcycle brand Norton Motorcycles has seen a major transformation of its business, engineering and quality standards over the past year, since TVS Motor Company acquired the British brand. In an exclusive interaction, John Russell, Interim CEO of Norton Motorcycles talks to carandbike about the rebirth of Norton, and about the improvements and changes that have been made to the legendary British motorcycle brand. Russell says that Norton will have a secure long-term future under the ownership of TVS Motor Company.

Also Read: TVS Motor Company Announces New Leadership Team For Norton Motorcycles

Norton Motorcycles Interim CEO John Russell at the new factory

carandbike: Norton has always been a desirable brand but before TVS Motor took ownership it had some issues that needed addressing. Mr Russell, what were your main priorities when you took over as Interim CEO?

John Russell: There is no doubt that Norton is one of the most admired and best-loved marques in the world of motorcycles. Indeed, it is a name that holds deep affection for many people who do not even ride or own a motorbike. However, before TVS Motor Company acquired Norton, it was clear the company had some issues that needed attention, but the opportunities far outweighed any concerns. With Norton’s robust and extensive pipeline of products and brand strength, TVS Motor saw the potential to become a long-term custodian of the Norton marque and transform the business with a secure long-term future.

TVS Motor knew the situation Norton was in but wasn’t daunted by it. Our main strategic priority was and continues to be that Norton and all its colleagues, dealers and customers have a positive future together. This meant we took a fresh strategic approach to fix the Norton business in its entirety. Our first action was to carry out a complete and total review of all aspects of the business to identify where our priorities should be. There were many positives to take from the review, such as the overall strength of the brand, our unique heritage, and our customers’ loyalty around the world – we knew this was something we could build on going forward.

Also Read: Norton Atlas 650 Production Indefinitely Postponed

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The new Norton Motorcycles headquarters will be home to design, engineering, purchasing, sales, marketing, and support teams

It was also clear that there was an opportunity to invest more in Norton’s manufacturing capabilities, product quality and, crucially, its talent. Unfortunately, in the past the brand had been a little neglected and not all the promises to customers had been kept but this is now a thing of the past. Norton is a brand with incredibly loyal customers who have a genuine affection for Norton, which the new management certainly doesn’t take for granted. We aim to reward our customers’ loyalty and create a product and ownership experience that lives up to the remarkable brand we have, which means investing in all the right parts of the business. Already, we have over the past year invested in new products, improved engineering development and quality standards to rapidly achieve the strict high standards we have set ourselves. I am pleased to report that we have made significant progress and the Norton business is now in a strong position, and trust is being rebuilt between the company and its customers.

Also Read: New Norton Management Recalls V4 SS; Reassures Customers

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Interim CEO John Russell was appointed after India’s TVS Motor Company acquired Norton Motorcycles in 2020

Investment has been the main priority since TVS Motor acquired Norton. Our key focus areas were to invest significantly in product quality, manufacturing and engineering capabilities and improve the customer focus. Keeping costs under control is always essential in the auto industry. Still, at the outset, the focus of TVS Motor was clear it had to invest significantly to turn Norton around. We also recruited a new team across the whole business to deliver the new strategy, which meant getting the right combination of fresh talent and relevant experience into the new team.

The results so far have been very encouraging, and we are confident our strategy has already set Norton on the path to future success.

Also Read: Norton Commando Production Begins At New Factory

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New Norton Motorcycles headquarters will also house the state-of-the-art production facility

carandbike: Great products are key to the success of any business – what is Norton doing to maintain its leadership in this area?

John Russell: Norton has built its global reputation on the strength of its beautiful handmade performance motorcycles and its past success in road racing – providing bikes that presided over a succession of Isle of Man TT wins from the 1920s up to the ’90s. TVS Motor and the new management of Norton are absolutely committed to making sure Norton once again leads the way with new products. We are investing whatever it takes to make certain Norton products are once again world-leading. The priority, however, was to review the current products and carry out quality checks on everything Norton produces. It was essential for us to get an accurate understanding of the current situation. Unfortunately, our review delivered mixed results, which meant that we had to recall V4-SS bikes delivered to customers in 2019 and early-2020, even though they were not manufactured and engineered by the ‘new’ Norton management. While this was undoubtedly going to attract some negative comments in the media, we believed it was the right thing to do for Norton’s long-term reputation. To earn the trust of our customers going forward, we have to be honest with them, and their safety is our priority. There can be absolutely no compromise on this as far as we are concerned.

Also Read: Norton Motorcycles Moves To New Headquarters Under TVS Ownership

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The new facility will serve as the headquarters of Norton Motorcycles

Going forward, we are putting in place world-leading engineering and manufacturing processes. Our ambition is to produce the world’s most desirable and highest quality luxury motorcycles. To make this happen, TVS Motor is investing significantly in a new world HQ in the UK to help ensure Norton returns to its leadership position. Products are the lifeblood of any successful business, and I can assure you and all your readers that Norton is very ambitious in this regard. Watch this space for new product announcements.

Also Read: TVS Motor Company Could Launch Norton Brand In India

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Norton Motorcycles moved to new headquarters with a new factory after TVS Motor Company acquired the brand

carandbike: For years, Norton appears to have suffered from a lack of investment in its operations and brand – what is changing now that Norton is owned by TVS Motor Company?

John Russell: It is true that Norton has had a chequered past, but that is behind us now. We are looking forward to a very positive future. The biggest announcement the ‘new’ Norton has made so far this year is establishing a new world HQ in the UK. This is an excellent opportunity for Norton and would not have been possible without the strong and active support of TVS Motor. TVS Motor has invested significantly in advanced engineering, product enhancement and development since its acquisition. It is not inaccurate to say that in our 123 year history Norton now has the most advanced facilities it has ever had. We are still in the process of completing the build of the new factory HQ, but we have moved into the facilities and are making bikes there. In addition, we will be recruiting for new roles and creating 100s of skilled jobs in the process. This is good news for Norton and good news for the UK auto industry.

On top of the new HQ we are investing more in marketing and the brand than ever before. A new and modern Norton needs to reach new customers worldwide and tell the wonderful brand stories of Norton well. This is what we are doing with a new website and new approach to all our marketing assets and strategy.

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The Norton Atlas Nomad and the Norton Atlas Ranger share the same 650 cc parallel-twin engine and production of the new scrambler-styled models have been postponed indefinitely

carandbike: What advantages are there now that Norton has a new global HQ and factory?

John Russell: Norton is a British brand with a global outlook. We are focussed on creating the most desirable motorcycles in the world that exude the Norton brand values and never compromise quality and experience. Having a UK HQ that is genuinely world-class is essential to our future and gives us the advantage of being able to truly deliver on our brand promise. We stand for ‘unleash freedom’, and that is how our customers connect at an emotional level with Norton. The new HQ also means we have a modern and technologically advanced facility to ensure product quality engineered by the most skilled engineers in the industry. Having the appropriate level of product quality means that our reputation will grow and our costs will lower going forward – the new factory HQ is fundamental to the future success of Norton.

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Norton V4 SS bikes delivered to customers in 2019 and early 2020, before TVS acquired the brand, have been recalled pro-actively by the new management to fix some issues with the affected bikes

carandbike: Clearly a lot of positive change has happened at Norton over the last 12 months can you indicate what the ambition is for Norton over the next 12 months?

John Russell: You’re right. The last 12 months have been the most significant 12 months in the company’s 123-year history. In short, Norton has a very positive future ahead. We have stabilised the business, got costs under control and are investing heavily in future products. My role as Interim CEO means that soon – from June, Sudarshan Venu, Joint Managing Director, TVS Motor, announced a new leadership team would join and take Norton to the next stage. Having fixed the business, it is now time to build Norton into the success it should be. Robert Hentschel has been appointed CEO, and Vittorio Urciuoli has accepted the newly created role of CTO. Both have significant experience at leading automotive and motorcycle companies, including Lotus Engineering, Ferrari and Aprilia Racing. They possess the understanding to ensure Norton’s engineering and product quality achieves world-class standards. The future is looking very positive for Norton and its customers. Over the next 12 months, more announcements on new products will be made, starting with the launch of V4 in July, which will signal the return to global leadership. I am very proud of the improved engineering quality of the product.

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Twenty-four time Isle of Man TT winner John McGuinness was one of the riders of the Norton Superlight in 2014 Isle of Man, but the Norton riders failed to take any podiums. Norton is tight-lipped about the future of racing at this point of time.

carandbike: All our readers want to know the answer to this question – when will Norton return to competitive racing?

John Russell: Well, we have certainly been busy the last 12 months to fix Norton, but we also know the racing heritage is a key part of Norton. Let’s say that this is a decision for the new CEO to make, but watch this space!

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It is clear that it has been an extraordinary year for Norton and the future looks very positive. The marque is set to grow and thrive now that it has expert guidance from TVS and levels of investment that will ensure the future success of Norton and provide its customers around the world with some of the most desirable and advanced motorcycles in the world. We look forward to catching-up with the new CEO, Robert Hentschel, in due course and will keep track of the progress this historic motorcycle brand is set to make.

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