Norton Motorcycles, the British brand ridden by Che Guevara and Clint Eastwood, aims to double its workforce and launch new products after being bought out of administration.
New owners India’s TVS Motor is expected to invest high tens of millions in the hand-built luxury bike group in a global drive to revive the glory days of the past when Norton’s machines were considered classics.
TVS, India’s third largest motorbike maker, bought the troubled business this month for £16m after it collapsed into administration in January.
Norton had racked up losses and was facing a tax probe from HMRC over unpaid bills running to £300,000.
The brand, which has been making bikes since 1902, has “tremendous potential,” TVS joint managing director Sudarshan Venu told the Financial Times.
“Norton is an iconic brand. We want to restore the brand to its former glories, produce the excellent products that it has, and delight its loyal fan base.”
The company, which produces a platform used by some BMW bikes and has links to UK engineering group Warwick Manufacturing Group, plans to integrate new technology to future bikes to widen their appeal.
“It is important that we take Norton into the future, in assisted riding, safety systems, and electric,” said Mr Venu.
“Norton has always stood for the highest end of motorcycles, as many of these features are important for taking the brand into the future.”
Steeped in history, the brand has long been associated with racing, and with winning the first Isle of Man TT competition in 1907.
It produced a quarter of all UK military bikes during the second world war, and was most famous for the Dominator and Commando models, producing 500,000 of the latter.
The company was taken over by entrepreneur Stuart Garner in 2008 with promises to revitalise the brand, but failed to sustain profitability with its high-priced models and expensive practice of building by hand.
The TVS rescue package and investment plans are a ray of light for the UK’s beleaguered automotive industry, which has been battered by falling sales and plant shutdowns due to coronavirus.
The rescue deal has echoes of Tata Motors’ purchase of Jaguar Land Rover in 2008, with TVS pledging to run the business at arm’s length.
It has installed former Harley-Davidson executive John Russell as interim chief executive and plans to name a new management team in due course.
“Norton focuses on a customer group that is in the super premium category. Our idea is to back it up with required investment,” Mr Venu said.
The first job is to restart production at its Donington Park site in Leicestershire to fulfil customer orders for bikes that were never delivered before the company collapsed, he added.
Within six months, Norton aims to move to a new, larger factory nearby that will allow the company to hand-make bikes while also giving room for growth.
The most recent company accounts, for the year to March 2018, show a pre-tax profit of £20,000, falling to a loss after tax of £13,000, on revenues of £6.7m.
The new facility, which is likely to be close to the current site, will have a capacity to build 2,000 bikes a year, with the new owners planning to open an additional factory outside the UK in the future.