Torqueing Heads: Talking Motorbikes

Ep2 - Norton's CEO on the firm's future

December 03, 2020 Michael Mann Season 1 Episode 2
Torqueing Heads: Talking Motorbikes
Ep2 - Norton's CEO on the firm's future
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

We spoke exclusively with John Russell, Norton Motorcycles new Interim CEO, who was installed by the firm's new owners, TVS, as of April 2020. 

It’s fair to say that most of us have endured a turbulent enough 2020 but what if you were a Norton customer, employee or fan? The first few months brought a whole new level of unrest with a discredited former owner and unpaid tax bills that resulted in the British marque entering administration in January.

However, one man’s misfortune (or in this case, ill-management) is another man’s gain, so says the old proverb. And in April 2020, in stepped the planet’s 6th largest motorcycle manufacturer, Indian-based TVS Motor Company, who’d been on the lookout for a ‘famous brand’ for a couple for years. John Russell, a self-confessed ‘failed engineer-turned marketing guy’ who ran Harley-Davidson’s European Operations for 10 years during an “exciting period of big changes and big growth” had been working as a consultant for TVS for seven years, a period where the firm had been “looking at build the business and growing our motorcycle footprint worldwide.” Norton had been identified, then lo and behold it became available.

John has been put in charge as Interim CEO and is “probably having more fun than I’ve ever had in my career.”

We had the opportunity to talk to the man charged with restoring the battered image of the British motorcycle firm. He talks about existing customers, a new headquarters, production, a growing team, the type of brand he wants Norton to be, the state of the UK bike industry, future models and ranges including what will happen to the V4SS, Atlas Twins, 961 Commando and Superlight, as well as his views on electric motorcycles, or use of another alternative power source.

Michael Mann (BikeSocial)
Hello, and welcome to the latest episode of Torquing Heads. I'm Michael Mann. And while we're all familiar with what a turbulent and unsettling year 2020 has been so far, there's one motorcycle manufacturer for whom it's been even bigger. They've added to their movie like chapter of their remarkable history ever since they began building motorcycles back in 1902. Yes, of course. I'm talking about Norton. Back in January of this year, the administrators were called in after some unpaid tax bills, but we're going to be talking about the future of the brand because the resulting few months have been very well documented already.

So today I'm going to be joined by John Russell, who's the interim CEO of Norton motorcycles.

Well, John, thank you so much for joining us. So in terms of a quick, recent recap, it was announced back in April, of course, that, Norton motorcycles had been bought out of administration by TVS Motor Company who are the, am I correct in thinking it's the sixth largest bike producer in the world?

John Russell (Norton)
It's of that order. Yep. 

Michael
Fantastic. John, first of all, let's by way of introduction, why don't you tell us a little bit about your history and what what's brought you here, where you are now? 

John
Yeah, I think we could run the whole interview on my history given my age, but I just give you some of the relevant bits: a failed engineer, turned marketing guy worked my way through the motor industry, probably the most relevant experience to what I'm doing now was I ran Harley Davidson's European operations for 10 years, and the period was really exciting, big changes, big growth. More recently, after I retired out of full time roles, I've worked with TVS for about seven years now as a consultant, and when we were looking at how to build the business and grow our motorcycle footprint worldwide we talked about buying a famous brand. And guess what? Norton was top of the list. Two years later, it became available. I was available, TVS needed somebody on the ground during COVID. And it was a perfect marriage really. Probably the only thing that could have got me out of retirement. And I'm probably having more fun than I've ever had in my career, so I'm really pleased to be here. 

Michael
So it was an ideal opportunity; you were already hooked up with TVS and Norton became available. That's almost, like you say, it's ideal. Are you a rider. are you motorcyclist? 

John
I don't ride much now I've got a few neck problems that sort of make life a bit more hairy on a bike than they used to be, but yeah I am, I have a license and I was a previous rider, so hoping to get back on bikes, but very carefully and probably fair weather only.

Michael
Maybe a Norton?! 

John
Yeah, definitely a Norton. Yes. 

Michael
As a businessman then is your focus sort of firmly on restoring the image of the brand?

John
It's very rare that you get a startup with so many good things going for it cause that's essentially what we are. You know, the company is, has got itself into a place where he's had a tremendous public profile, but there is very little substance to the business. You know, the previous owner did, did his best, but at the end he didn't have the resources to do it properly. So I think we're in a fantastic situation where we've created this sort of startup mentality, but we're doing it with an extraordinary brand with an extraordinary heritage. Fantastic current, current following. Most people have heard of Norton, even if they haven't ridden a bike, even if they've not seen one on the road. And then we have the backing of TVS, you know, a great company, 4 million two wheelers a year. Very very high quality reputation, very ethical company. So we have the perfect mix really; a startup mentality with no legacy to drag us back, a fantastic brand and the backing of a very, very powerful, capable company.

Michael
You speak about the brand, are you looking to change the way the brand is seen or the way the brand has been portrayed from within? 

John
We're 123 years old, fantastic history. Most of the things in our history, if they're properly re-presented and brought back to life, they are as relevant today as they were in the great days of Norton in the past. So our job is to very carefully nurture that, you know, we've got to pay tribute to our past, you know, TVS see themselves as custodians of this brand. So they are very much   the history, but we've got to move forward. What we can't do is keep going back to our history. So we see our job as making Norton as relevant and as powerful and as appealing in the present and the future as it was in the past. 

Michael
It's interesting, I was going to ask you whether you see it as a bit of a sort of state of the art company or whether you want to rest on that more historic heritage, kind of laurel? 

John
Well, firstly, I think going forward and if you look at it, looking at our history, we were always about being the best of our time. You know, the great feather-bed frames, you know, the, the commando in his day was the world's fastest road bike. Now today it's seen as a heritage asset, but in its day it was really leading edge. And I think Norton had many strands running through its history, but one of them was innovation and innovation that worked for the rider. So that's what we're going to be doing in the future. So, much of what we do might look and feel different but it will be very much coming out of that sort of heritage and history of Norton.  

Michael
Are you doing... are you performing a lot of market research? Are you taking different markets for what, for how the brand is perceived around the world? For example, is India now all of a sudden a prominent brand for the future of Norton? 

John
Well, I think the, you know, the first thing is we're going to map out the world and look for the right places for us to, to be active and the criteria going to be around, you know, where can we be Norton? It's not about there's a market, how do we adapt ourselves from being Norton? We're going to go out there and succeed by being a better Norton than we've ever been in the past. And that's going to be our number one filter on where we go, what we sell, which bikes we produce. And I think the likelihood is that we're going to grow through the European North American, Australian, Japanese markets first, because that's where if you like the premium market for motorcycles is, is best established, but then the rest of the world is, opportunity. You're obviously there's an interest. We have an Indian owner. They want us to develop in India, but the market for really premium motorcycles is relatively small at the moment.

Hopefully we can enter India with the product that we're selling elsewhere, minor adaptations for India, and then help that market grow in India.  

Michael
So the philosophy of the brand, the principles of the brand it's mainly around you use the word premium, as, as sort of a base level? 

John
I think it's, yeah, I, I don't like using words that sort of take you back to price because that's not what we're talking about. Our bikes will be high price, but there'll be driven by high value. And there'll be, they'll come all of the, all of the attributes that you would expect of a high end motorcycle, but they'll have that specialness that we've got to put into them that makes them Norton. And I think if you look at our past, the Norton-ness was very evident, you know, very exquisite design features, had a sort of languidity that didn't exist in other products. We were more sort of Aston Martin that rather than Ferrari in the sort of profile and the positioning of the bike. So I think we've got a tremendous pallet to work with to create this sort of Norton offering in a whole range of segments of the, of the high price motorcycle market. 

Michael
What about team motivation? You've still got a lot of the guys who were, who were employed in the previous era, still with you? 

John
Very much so, we started with, we brought 55 people with us from the old company. And that was a mark of TVS' commitment that they wanted to bring the people and, you know, give them the ability to grow with the new company. Since then we've almost doubled the size of the company. So we've got a very, very different team now, you know, the mix of people is very different. I think almost every... well, not almost, everybody in that team, both the existing and the new is just delighted to be part of something that's moving forward. You know, to be in at the ground floor of an extraordinary journey and you know, play their part in both building the brand and being part of this new business that we're creating.

So I think the motivation, whatever, whatever people think of the old company, the one thing that was always evident was that the people were highly motivated towards Norton that's you know, that's why they stayed through difficult times and we're taking that passion with a whole load of new passion coming from people that are joining us.

Michael
So in terms of brand growth, product development, perhaps we'll get into the nitty gritty a little bit later on, but are you, are you more focused on getting that, sort of ground-up that let's say focused on the next two to three years as opposed to the next five to 10? 

John
Yeah, I think like, like all, good businesses when you're seeking to grow you have a long-term vision that guides you and then you've got a roadmap that gets you to the vision. So your eyes are sometimes on the horizon, they're sometimes on the step in front of you and that's very much how we are. So we begin our journey with the current products. So we have the V4 SS that we're just about to go back into production with.

We have a limited number of orders for Commando, and we're going to produce a very limited series to sort of celebrate if you like the end of that old Commando production run and then follow that fairly soon with the other products that have already been previewed and announced. So, other versions of the V4 engined bike, and then the Atlas range which takes us into a much bigger sort of segment of the market.

So that's going to keep us busy for the next year, 18 months or so. Whilst that's happening, the things you mentioned earlier about, you know, what is the plan for the, for the other segments? That's when we start well, now is the time we start doing the work to say exactly what do we want to produce? You know, what are the engines, what are the segments we're going to go into, how do we make it a Norton branded product? You know, which geographical market. So we're going after which customer types. So all of that work is just, just beginning. And that will take us where it takes us. 

Michael
It would be remiss of me if I didn't ask about existing customers or existing orders and I'm sure that you knew that question was going to come about how they are, well, how's it going? How has the fulfilment of those orders going? 

John
A couple of things; firstly, I think the enthusiasm of our customers is extraordinary. You know, I, when I, when I joined the company, I imagined there'd be this hotbed of resentment and annoyance and all these things. And I'm sure at various points in time that's been the feeling, but the general feeling from all those customers that placed deposits was 'great I can have my bike'. You know, just real, a real sense of 'wow, thank you, you're going to build my bite for me'. So the vast majority of the 400 or so orders that were placed, the customers want their bikes. Some of them have said no, and they gonna get their money back from the administrator. But generally that's because their lives have changed somewhat and the bikes no longer relevant. It's not because they didn't want the bike. So we built up a, you know, a good relationship with all of those customers. We're hoping to build the, well production, we've got a new facility that we're in the process of refurbishing in Solihull, and that will give us the ability to create a really good factory, world-class standards that will keep us in a good set of premises where we can achieve our volume growth over the next five years and be a really good home for Norton as we rebuild the brand and we intend to have the production facility in operation for the end of this year and then begin the process of building the V4 SS' and in parallel with that building out the Commandos that I've mentioned. So that's the, you know, the basic sort of, short-term steps whilst we keep our eyes firmly focused on the long distance to make sure we're moving in the right direction all the time.

Michael
So all those manufacturing and production facilities at Donington Hall, will they be moving over or you kind of sacking those off? 

John
We moved out of, Donington Hall, well Hastings House, the building next to Donington Hall. We moved out of that at the end of October. The equipment, the inventories that we need, we're taking with us but more importantly, we're adding a huge investment on top of that to make sure we have the equipment to both build and measure, manage quality, all the things we need to do. 

Michael
Have there been any production changes in the types of materials used or the processes or the quality of assembly? I think there were a few stories here or there about bikes that have gone back for, you know, refurb or, you know, short-term fixes? 

John
I'm not quite clear what, what those sort of stories are. There were clearly some quality issues in the past. You know, in some respects that was, you know, driven by the, you know, the financial difficulties of the company, but also by the very sort of, cottage style, you know, sort of, approach to manufacturing. What we're moving to is a much more recognisable, modern day quality manufacturing process.

It doesn't mean we're using robots and removing people. We still have very much a sort of hand-built handcrafted side to what we're doing, because that's an essential ingredient in the specialness of Norton, but behind that is the state of the art equipment to make sure that the bikes are built with great precision with great quality and that is very much a sort of the hallmark of the way TVS do their business. So we want to retain all of that specialness about the way Norton's are crafted whilst we introduce quality standards of, you know, 21st century and where we need to be. So a lot of, a lot of things will be the same because that's where Norton gets its personality and character from but in a lot of respects, most of it will be different because we need to build in a different way to match the standards we need for today. 

Michael
I'm intrigued by the way in which TVS model themselves, or do their business. Are they going to be heavily influential on the way Norton is operated and how it's run and the decisions that are made around future models? Or are they a bit more of a silent partner, so to speak? 

John
The experience we've had today is probably indicative of the way we go forward. They, they want us to be a self-sufficient Norton going forward. So they want to make sure that we are a standalone company focused very much on doing what Norton needs to do, but we'll do that within a framework of, of, of the value system and the business sort of ethics or the way TVS operates, so strong focus on customers, strong focus on quality, strong focus on technology, all the things that you would expect from a company that has got such a track record of its own. At the moment we're leaning very heavily on TVS because obviously with a company with limited resources, limited experience of doing things the way we need to do them, we have a big team of TVS people in India who are supporting us on a day-to-day basis. And as we become more self-sufficient that support will withdraw, but we will always work hand in hand with our partners in TVS. They want us to become not a TVS Norton, but, the best, Norton ever that happens to be owned by TVS. And that's that's the way they are viewing it.  

Michael
You mentioned V4 a few minutes ago, will that mean that the engines and the bikes will be Euro 5 friendly? 

John
Yes. That's what we're, that's part of the program we're working our way through and I think it seems like that in the, you know, the, in terms of the, the complexity and the investment and the testing required is massive but in terms of what the customer feels, it's very limited, but those are the things that we have to do properly going forward. You know, we have to make sure our bikes are fully compliant, they meet every standard that governments would expect, that customers would expect. So that's what we have to do.

The initial, the initial V4 production will continue in its current form and then we moved to V five, er to Euro 5 next year. 

Michael
And presumably there'd be no loss of power or anything, like your said, the customer won't notice? 

John
I think every time you hit a new sort of, set of environmental emission standards, every manufacturer says it's impossible and it would destroy the character of the bikes, but somehow ingenuity gets around that, we find a way of maintaining the bike and actually making it better, usually.  

Michael
Ta dah - it's lighter. It's faster. It's better... 

John
Yeah, yeah. I think the only thing we've lost, as a personal observation, the only thing we've lost is the noise, which, you know, I think I can't, I can't imagine any motorcyclists wanting a quiet bike, but we have to live in the real world. and we understand why, why, why regulators want us to ride quieter bikes, but that's probably the only thing we've lost through this journey. 

Michael
I'm glad you mentioned Commando as well because the, all the 961 parallel twin models, I think have disappeared from your website, so I'm pleased that they, they're still in existence and going to be produced.

John
Yeah, and the aim is it's very much at end of series, you know, that the, you know, the, the life of that engine in particular, you know, is coming to an end, it's harder and harder to make it compliant, build it to the quality standards we need. So, yeah. Finish the series, honour the past, recognise that quite a few people out there that would like to buy the last Commandos from the, from the old model line-up, but clearly Commando will be reborn in the future. You know, that's always been a central product. It could be very different to the Commando we're saying goodbye to, but, it is very much at the heart of our brand. 

Michael
And I see you've trademarked several other names from, from yesteryear as well; Ranger, Electra and Fastback. I know that Ranger is a, a name already associated with the Atlas, right?

John
That's right. With the Nomad and the Ranger. Yep. Yep. 

Michael
But what about the other ones? Can you tell us any more about future future models or those particular brands? 

John
Well, you know, I'm not going to tell you any of that! Just, I think that a couple of things, right, you clearly, where we were going to go into a lot more sort of product segments, customer segments that we're in today, or we've announced so far today and we've got to make those choices. So at the moment we genuinely don't know what they will be, but there, there will be some, and on the naming front, names are always so difficult, once you have any, any sort of equity in a name, you should retain it. They're like, it's gold dust, really, because it's just so difficult to find a name that's relevant that's not being used by somebody else. So any name we have access to, we will register and hope to use in the future.

Michael
John, I have a question about the state of the motorcycle industry in the UK at the moment - how would you describe that? 

John: We obviously have a lot of information about historic customers. And we're building up quite a database now of, of new customers, but we also need to look at it slightly differently. I think a lot of it, in my experience of both cars and motorcycles, the tendency to, to look at the hardware statistics, you know, what, what do people own? How big is the engine, you know, that had how expensive is the bike? Whereas the real things we want to understand is why do people ride the motorcycle? What they get out of it. What is, what do they really want to do with the bike in the future? How can we make it, how can we get this balance right between adding to the exhilaration whilst reducing the intimidation, because from a, an industry viewpoint, there's no doubt the industry needs to deal with that because you know, it, I find it odd that people quite happily ride down a hillside with tree stumps and boulders and things in the way, doing 30 miles an hour on a mountain bike and yet there is worry about doing 30 miles an hour and a motorcycle with full gear on through a, through a city centre. So somehow our industry's got itself into the wrong place in terms of this exhilaration v. danger thing, and people do lots of things that are dangerous that don't have the same sort of negative reputation that motorcycling has managed to develop over the years. And it's really impacting young rider throughput, the numbers of people coming into our industry. So, finding solutions to things like that I think, things we would want to participate in the future and I think it's an industry wide issue. 

Michael
We've spoken about the Atlas, the, the Nomad and the Ranger; two years ago that was unveiled with a lot of hype. It looked spectacular. there was some claimed power, performance numbers, which seemed quite high, but, I take it you're going to be revisiting that model, you've already mentioned it and I think that's going to cause quite a bit of excitement as, and when that does come to the market. But again, presumably that will be, up to the relevant Euro friendliness and, and it'll hit production but any, any idea on timescales? 

John
Those bikes were definitely announced as sort of prototype sort of development, early development motorcycles rather than fully developed production-ready bikes. So there's a, quite a, quite a bit of development work to be done. The basic concept of the bike, the way it stands, the way it rides, the way the engine performs, the fundamental look of the bike I think all of that is absolutely spot on. One of the things I remember seeing that and thinking you know way before we were thinking of buying the company that I looked at that and thought, I couldn't think of a better product plan than that for Norton, you know, it just seems spot on in terms of bringing, bringing Norton into the present with relevant bikes, very appealing bikes. And I think that's reflected in the reaction we got to it when it, when it was launched, but it does need the final development work doing. And there are parts of the bike we'd like to improve. You know, it's detail rather than substantial sort of system change, and that's probably going to take us most of next year to get done. So, but that, you know, that's definitely on the product plan and the sooner we can get those bikes into the market, the better I think for us, certainly.   

Michael
But realistically, it's going to be a, you know, at least a 2022 model. Is that kinda what you're saying? 

John
Yeah. Next year, back end of next year, that sort of timeframe. And obviously all of these things are subject to whatever happens with COVID.  

Michael
Yes, actually yeah, a relevant point and I know that obviously, you know, you, you bought the brand just as, as we're going into lockdown. How have plans been affected by COVID and by this, you know, the so-called second lockdown?

John
Well, firstly, you don't know because we don't know what it would have been like without COVID, but you know, coming into it I went Hastings House on April the 17th to get my first look at what I'd taken on and I couldn't imagine how we could get so much done without anybody in the office really, but we've managed to do some extraordinary things. We've restarted a company established contact with all of our customers, we've doubled the size of the team, we've found a new office, we've got all the base engineering in place to relaunch the new production facility, almost ready to go, suppliers have all been brought back on track, you know, or a ton of things and that's all been done through screens like this, you know, and it's, it's remarkable how adaptable people are. You know, it's just great credit to the team I've got that they've managed to get so much done in such difficult circumstances. 

Michael
Do you have a timescale? You might've mentioned it earlier and I perhaps  missed it, but on the opening of the new facility, you said Solihull, right?

John
Yeah. Solihull. We hope to have the production facility set up by the end of the year and operational by the end of the year and then the office part of it and the external parts of it sort of January, February time. So we're, so we're looking at a, sort of an official opening of that facility in the new year. And, that'll be a great cause for celebration for us and hopefully you'll join us. 

Michael
Yeah, hopefully. So your title is Interim CEO, do you hope that it will not be interim for, for much longer or are you, what are your plans?  

John
I think stay breathing is the, the first part of my plans at my age, but yeah, I'm here as long as I can support the business. Obviously there's a lot of interest from a lot of interesting people in taking this role on permanently and I'm here to carry us forward until, until that appointment is made. So I'm here for some months yet, at least probably not years, but, but definitely months. And given my sort of background with TVS over the last seven years, I expect I'll be involved with the company going forward.

But, but it's very clear the sort of culture. The style of business, the way of doing business has been very firmly, laid down by a combination of what's right for TVS and what works for Norton. And, and hopefully my, my successor will, you know, take it, take it forward on the same basis I've been running it.

Michael
John, there's another question I wanted to ask about the deal that was signed about three years ago, I believe with ZongShen, the Chinese, firm. Is that still alive and kicking? I heard some reports earlier this year that they were, under licence, they were developing the, the 650 twin engine weren't they?

John
Yeah, we have a, that was a deal done obviously, as you say, by the old company, we've, we've you know, one of the big, big steps in, in building up this company is establishing all the supply chain relationships. So we've got a relationship established with ZongShen. They've always been a good partner I think to the old Norton, everyone has, you know, good, good things to say about them, the way they operate, the way they support us. And we've got a relationship established and we'll be working with them on the, on the 650 engine as we go forward. 

Michael
Speaking of which a brand that we've not spoken about yet, or, or a model that we're not spoken about yet is the Superlight - is that going to be produced? Is that a, is that a model that's going to be hitting dealerships anytime? 

John
Yeah, that's in the plan. When, when I talk about the Atlas range, I mean, you know, the whole gamut through the Superlight and such, not just the Nomad and the Ranger. And I think that's one of the most exciting products that has come out of Norton. So I think that one has tremendous potential, what you've got to make sure is that we can deliver that potential, that the bike lives up to its look and lives up to its early sort of tests performances but yeah, that's definitely a bike we'd like to produce. 

Michael
There was talk, again it was perhaps a little bit hypothetical, about a supercharged Superlight at some point. What's the likelihood... well, let me ask you this question, what are your views on the sort of standard combustion engine versus alternative power be it supercharged or forced induction, or even, you know, going forwards into sort of electric power? 

John
Well, firstly, it's going to be, it's inevitable, you know, we've, we can't sort of hold onto the past to know the new thing goes away. We've got to get our heads around how do we create a Norton with electric power or hydrogen power or whatever it might be. And I think, you know, the, the biggest challenge for us and almost all motorcycle manufacturers is so much of the, certainly the, the sound and the feel and some of the look comes from the current engine configuration and the idea of having an electric motorcycle, you know, is anathema to many riders who you lose so much. So our challenge is how do we build the personality? How do we build the rawness? How do we build this sort of, that sort of grittiness into a motorcycle using one of the other, alternative power sources? And how do we do that in a way that's not through a soundtrack or a vibrator or whatever, whatever other thing you could use to do that? So we've got to find a way of finding the motorcycle in these alternative energy ideas. So you can certainly get the performance, electric gives you, you know, startling torque and power characteristics so that piece of it is a big tick, but I think the actual sort of sound and feel side of it is the piece where we need to do quite a bit of work. And final thing is it it's very, not easy, it is relatively easy to create differentials between products around the way the engines are developed, the way they're tuned, the way the sound's created as you get into, particularly into EV it tends to be a fairly generic characteristic around the sound and the feel. So if we lose that ability to differentiate between a BMW, Ducati, Harley Norton, I think that's a real challenge for the industry. How do we create things that are meaningful for our customers? And give us an advantage and a benefit against their competition. So it's a big challenge, but we've got to get on it.

You know, it's not, it's not going to go away. You know, the, you know, currently the UK they're talking, the Government's talking about 2030 as the possible deadline for banning the sale of petrol diesel powered vehicles. It's 2035, but they want to bring it forward five years. Well, that's a one and a half engine development timeframes away. So that in engineering terms, that is very, very close. 

Michael
So, that's something that the company, and when I say the company I mean Norton and as opposed to TVS, but is that something that you are actually working, got people working on it, right now?

John
Well, there was nothing in place on that obviously with the old Norton and that, you know, they would, I think the old Norton would have had a big challenge there and would have had to rely on sort of proprietary powertrain to deliver that. We've got to develop our own, it's on the plan, it's not currently being worked on because ton of other things on the foundation. TVS are working  on, on EV but, of course, much of what they need on EV is very different to our requirements. You know, they sell a lot of small engine, commuter city sort of travel two wheelers and the need there is very different to putting it in a Commando or a V4 SS or whatever. So, you know, we're more where Harley have been and, you know, Harley is probably the first one to come up with something that has excited the market, but I think we all need to go further than that. And, it's a big challenge, but we just gotta get our heads around it. 

Michael
It's the start of the future, isn't it? We, we, you can almost, you can almost say that whatever you do give it two years and they'll be something twice as good, but half the price and it's, you know, everyone's very aware of that kind of format.

John
Yeah. I think, I think the other thing with EV is, you know, not just with EV itself, but I think the motorcycle industry has got a lot more to gain from connectedness, from you know general sort of digital capabilities, electronic aids. And I think the motorcycles we'll be selling in 10 years time will be radically different, not just in powertrain terms, but in the whole way, the stability control operates, you know, the balance systems, safety warning systems, which in many respects are more useful on motorcycles than they are on cars. So I think that there's a revolution to come through through that side of the motorcycle development. 

Michael
John, Norton's got a great  history of road racing, particularly around a certain Island in the Irish Sea and has, you know, come back with relative success in with top 10 finishes, I believe for the likes of Josh Brooks in recent years... 

John
...which are amazing given where the company has been, absolutely extraordinary.

Michael
Yeah. It seemed a bit of a vanity project more than anything, but we were all a bit seduced by it. What are the plans? Are you, are you likely to go road racing again with the brand? 

John
Yeah, I think firstly, you know, the, the history of Norton is, you know, so entwined with, racing, you know, I grew up in the era of Jeff Duke when the Manx Norton's were just coming to the end of their sort of racing supremacy and they were extraordinary, they were the Honda's of their day, the, you know, the Mercedes F1 of their day, just their dominance of racing was actually extraordinary. And the interesting one is the road racing, because I think the difference between road and track is that it's more about the combination of the rider and the bike on road racing. You know, so he's less of a jockey and more of a partner in getting round the track, you know, the, the bravery and the courage and the riding skills are just as important as the capabilities of the bike. And I think that's very much where Norton is. It's a bike that brings the best out of the rider. So I think we are drawn towards road racing, generally, and Isle of Man, obviously, because winners are the first TT and all the rest of it. So I cannot imagine a future without us being in racing. And I suspect we're going to bias towards the road racing. We'll always have a big mix of road racing. And maybe that is the first that we get back into back into...

Michael
...back into, not next year, maybe? 

John
Well, it's all about, you know, we we'd love to do it, and along with a whole ton of other things we'd love to do so it's, it's, which comes first, I think in terms of proving to the world that Norton is back I think we need to be competitive in racing pretty soon. I think if there's one thing we can demonstrate that, you know, not this Norton is the real Norton would be to be sustainably successful in racing. So I'll probably get about 20 people ringing me after this interview that they've got a great idea, come and have a look at my workshop, I can do it for you. I've got this contract with his rider. So, I think, and I think it will be good for the sport. I think Norton coming back in would be,  coming back seriously and sustainably, I think that would be really good for the sport, whichever ones we come into.

Michael
John, thank you so much for your time. I wish you every success, both personally and for, for the brand as well in the, in the near and the future. And I'm looking forward to, you know, as a, as a, as a motorcycle enthusiast, as a British marque fan, as a, you know, just as a, as an out and out rider, I'm looking forward to seeing what the future holds for Norton, under its new ownership and guidance. So thanks for taking the time and, and sitting with us and talking about it. 

John
It's been a delight. Look forward to seeing you again

Michael
Until next time. Thanks again for joining us. Ride safe. Cheers

Intro to the episode
John's history
Does John ride?
Restoring Norton's image
Honouring the past but looking ahead
Looking at different markets. India maybe?
Prive vs value
Doubling the company's size (personnel)
2-3 year focus
V4SS / Commando 961 production
Fulfilment of existing orders
New HQ and production facilities announced
TVS: a silent partner?
V4SS - Euro 5 friendly
End of 961 Commando engine
Trademarked model names
Opinion on the UK motorcycle industry
Atlas Nomad and Ranger production schedule
John's future with Norton
Zongshen licence deal
Superlight production
Stance on electric or alternative power
A return to road racing?