Finally, a chance to tell a bit of a good news story for Norton. The following interview is a long one. It’s with the new (Interim) CEO at Norton, his name is John Russell. It’s long because there’s a lot to cover, stick with it.
John, for the benefit of the readers, I’ll pin my ears back and listen while you give us a brief history of your career.
I’ve worked with some of the best brands you can name. When I joined Land Rover in 1986 it was a tiny company, it hadn’t launched the Discovery. I played my part in helping to build it into what it’s become since. Some of those parallels are similar to here (Norton) where you’ve got a small work force scurrying round trying to get things to work with a make do mentality, then you turn it into a much more sophisticated business when you get it to a certain threshold of volume and profit. I ended up on the board of the Rover Group when BMW owned the company, that was going swimmingly well until BMW decided they could do better without me. I left and started working in India through Warwick University, which is the beginning of the trail as to how I got into working for Norton. I was working for a Lord Bhattacharyya, he was an extraordinary man who bought huge industrial partnerships to Warwick University and made huge improvements to the way that universities work with industry. He was the one that really brokered the deal to get TATA to buy Land Rover, he was a very influential guy. Rolling forward, I got head hunted in to Harley Davidson. I was the VP of the Motor Company but it was my job to lead the European team and grow the market share. What was interesting there was when I arrived they’d been trying to turn Harley into a European bike manufacturer. I said no, let’s do it the other way around and turn European bikers into Harley riders. The tail was wagging the dog, we knew that Harleys couldn’t compete with R1s and GSs or whatever but Harleys had their own appeal and attractiveness. It took a while, we had to re present the product and it took three to four years. When it came we grew from sixteen thousand units a year to up over forty thousand units. Occasionally in your career you feel that you made a difference and the Harley job is the one where I feel I made a difference. I should have a copy of the sales graph on the wall but I’m not that self obsessed.
At the end of it I proved that you can have too much of a good thing and when I left Harley I had three million air miles with American Airlines alone, I didn’t always fly with them. Harley was a great organisation, very much about its people and very ‘teamy’, I got involved with various product committees and was spending more and more time in the states. The job was done in Europe and I was asked to go and work in the States. My wife said I could go but she wasn’t going with me and Milwaukee in the winter is not the greatest place in the world I can tell you. At this time I was asked if I wanted to take up the role as CEO of London Taxis, another great British brand.
We ended up getting into all kinds of difficulties, we didn’t manage our relationship with our Chinese partners as well as we could have done. We ended up putting that company into administration and sold it to our Chinese partners. At this point in time I was doing a few non exec things, I was chairman of a little health company that did data analysis and I was doing a bit of work for Warwick university again, but this time with TVS. In 2013 I started doing consultancy support for them and became connected with Sudarshan Venu (joint MD at TVS), I’ve been doing that ever since on a part time basis. Sometimes it was one day a month and other times it was quite intense. Interestingly, a while back a number of Indian companies were buying up old brands and developing partnerships with running companies. The tendency was for those companies to be absorbed and become little more than a badge placed on a locally produced product. We talked about the scope available for TVS. The idea of ‘borrowing’ a brand and pretending it was the brand didn’t appeal to us. The idea of owning a brand, building a different business model and developing it to its potential that you could do different things with in years to come was a very appealing thing. Even at the outset (years ago) we looked at who we would buy. Did we want to buy a dodgy old Italian brand? No, the only one that we could think of that had any value was Norton. At that time it looked to be being run by people with ambition and vision. This is long before I began to understand the company or had read anything that you had published. They looked serious about the brand and it appeared to be off the table. When it came up for sale, Sudarshan was keen immediately.
JH: On the basis of the growth that Land Rover and Harley Davidson enjoyed while you were there, plus your experience in India, you seem to be perfectly placed?
JR: With my connections and relevance, Sudarshan thought I’d be a perfect fit. He needed an interim (CEO) that knew TVS very well and would also be able to operate over here in the UK without the need for a large support team from India. Hopefully my profile and appointment shows the UK and the rest of the world that we’re serious about building this company.
JH: So what’s the excitement and drive, what are you leaping out of bed in the mornings thinking about at the minute?
JR: I think because I was heading off into retirement, I’m really excited to be back in harness, it feels fabulous. More than that, if I can think of anything to do with my time if I was given the choice, it would be a rebuilding exercise. I like encouraging people, I like seeing things differently and enjoying breakthroughs where they haven’t previously been realised. Even when you just say the word Norton, it feels good. The phonetics of the word are part of what makes the brand appeal, it’s like Mustang, it’s got a ring to it. It has magic. I was old enough to remember when Geoff Duke was a current rider. As I was growing up, the Manx Nortons were probably one of the sexiest bikes around, despite the fact that they’d already finished racing them and they’d gone out of production, it (Norton) was just so stylish, edgy and what all the cool guys rode. It was in the era before it all went a bit wrong in the 70’s when they made a strange commuter bike. Also, like Mercedes and the iconic three pointed star, the silver tank and black lettering of a Norton is something that is etched on my motorcycling psyche. When this opportunity came up I just couldn’t believe it. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity. When I started, I remembered a saying that Americans use, “It’s like drinking from a fire hydrant” as always when you’re taking a company out of administration there are huge issues. Staff, dealers and customers are all anxious. At the same time as thinking about the product strategy you have to deal with having the plumbing reconnected. The gas and electricity supply is as important as the really complex stuff.
The balance of the needs and capabilities of the marketplace, with the ambition and capability of the organisation is something that is hugely important here. That’s the balance that I’m striving for. Looking at what’s out there and what we can do versus what we’re able to do and what we’d like to do. TVS’s ambition for this business knows no bounds. This is not a buy it and take it overseas thing. They want to build the iconic heart of Norton back to being better than what it was originally and make the business as good as it can possibly be. This year it’s going to be small volumes but where can we be in five or ten years time? Can we be a Ducati or a BMW style premium business? Those are the sort of things on the ambition radar, but they have to be aligned with our start point and the stepping stones required to get us there.
The foundations are reflected in where our priorities are at the moment. We’ve got a work stream around customers, dealers and suppliers. Getting them stabilised and understanding what the issues are, then decide what we can do with an aim of bringing those people along with us. We’ve got a whole set of issues around restarting the business. That has a host of problems that have arisen from the fact that the previous structure lacked resources and was struggling to find ways around some pretty difficult problems. But we can now leverage all of the benefits we get from TVS, which is a high quality organisation. In all of my business career, I’ve never come across a business as ethical as TVS.
JH: I’ve heard this on a number of occasions.
JR: Yep, it’s extraordinary. It manifests itself in customer focus, quality focus and people focus. Those are the foundations of what the new Norton business is going to be built on but obviously within that there are a lot of challenges, as you know. There’s a lot of pain and anguish out there and it’s going to take a bit of effort to get on top of that and feel that regardless of where the responsibility lies and how we got into this situation, that they have faith in this new TVS supported Norton is going to do the best by them, regardless of whether we have a legal obligation or whatever. That’s the way we’re going to approach it. We’ll take things on the chin and if there are problems we’ll face up to them. We’re going to find fair and consistent ways of dealing with things and every day it will get better. Hopefully one day people will wake up and say “My god Norton is on its way!”
JR: Hopefully that’s soon.
JH: Agreed. Before we crack on, I think you should understand that regardless of what I’ve previously published about Stuart Garner and Norton, I’m not on some kind of mission to see Norton disappear. Quite the opposite. I think that people absolutely deserve to be held to account for what they’ve done and neither you nor I can change the past. I’m a biker though, I want to see success for the brand.
JR: That’s good to hear, the press are an important part of the process and we have no issues with people digging and looking for the story. We just hope that our honesty and transparency works for everyone. We’re not going to hide things or say we’re going to do things we can’t do. If we can move the general view and not just your particular part in this process away from a narrative of the past and look instead to the future that would be great. But we know we have to provide the evidence of being able to do this before people take us seriously. It’s the old ‘show me and prove it’ thing. If you’re a guy with a broken bike or you’ve paid a deposit and you don’t have a bike to show for it, it’s difficult.
JH: Yes, there’s a lot of people out there looking in and saying, “Where’s my bloody bike?”
JR: Exactly and we get that totally and that’s why we’re not saying to people “Forget the past, we’re the new lot and that was nothing to do with us, just judge us on our future.” That’s not a feasible position to take really.
JH: Okay well that leads me nicely into production. When does it start and who gets what first?
JR: Erm, don’t know and don’t know is the basic answer. What we’re doing is firstly assembling all the basic customer data we can. We have a reasonable record of all the outstanding orders that have been placed. We’re going to verify all that information internally and then go through a process of engaging with all of the people involved in that. That will be to validate everything and make sure we know what people are expecting and hoping for. Internally we’ve already got a team working under Simon Skinner on the restart plan with the head of engineering and product development in India. The aim there is to understand the steps required. Can we build the bike? Is it true to its specification, functionality and promise and do we have the suppliers in place to deliver the parts. Have we got all the parallel processes right (homologation etc) that run alongside an engineering and build programme? We have no idea at this stage how long that’s going to take and when we can start production but fairly soon we’re going to know. When we do we’ll make it known and individually and publicly. I think it’s pretty clear that the V4s are going to be easier to build than the 650s for instance and there’ll be a longer time frame on one than the other. Within those there’ll be all sorts of wrinkles around engineering programmes, availability of parts and improvements we might want to make to the products along the way. What we want to make sure is that whatever the expectation and experience of the past, there is a recognition that when these products do come to market that customers can see a benefit from what TVS and the new way of working with Norton has brought to those products. We want to make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes. There are a number of areas where we can see they were cost constrained, lots of people were working under very difficult circumstances and mistakes were made along the way. We can apply the right level of resource to get these things fixed and make sure these products are true to Norton and to TVS when they’re made available to customers.
JH: Assume a degree of stupidity on my behalf, but looking at the legible data with regards registrations in the UK and disregarding any machines exported (as their isn’t any legible data to support this), the build rate is currently 1.2 bikes per week. There are currently 466 deposits for bikes as yet undelivered. Based on the current build rate and using the current facility, it’s going to take 10.2 years to build the bikes that are outstanding. How will you address that build rate in the first instance?
JR: Firstly I don’t think your numbers are out, I actually thought the current build rate was around one a week so we’re in the same place. Four hundred ish orders, maybe some of these will slip away as we go through our initial process. A lot of them are clearly specific orders from customers that have been chased and we know that. Some of them might be more speculative where they’re a dealer order with no customer or that sort of thing. But you’re right, whatever number we end up at will be much bigger than our historic build rate. That build rate was conditioned by sales and what they could finance, it wasn’t constrained by capacity. I have no idea what the current build rate is exactly as it’s not a flow process, it’s more of a machine on a ramp process. The elapsed time on builds isn’t obvious but it looks like bikes take a long time because of parts supply issues month other things. Firstly I think we can build way more than the historic one a week. How many? I don’t know but way more. Secondly I think part of the process that we’re going through on the restart is to make sure we have a reasonable level of capability to match what our upside demand projections are, we’re working on that. There’ll be a lump as we clear the initial orders and then hopefully there’ll be a ramp up to an ongoing sales rate, depending on how well we can sell the proposition. There’s no way we plan to tickle along at one a week. Fixing all the non capacity related issues will obviously allow us to build to the capacity and then we’ll be looking at the way that we build in order to add to that capacity when we need to. The numbers we’ve discussed are accurate and it’s a perfectly valid question but I don’t think it in any way tells a story about what we can do going forward. We know that if customers have been waiting years for a bike already, they’re not going to be happy waiting for years again to get their bikes. If we don’t get on with it, the momentum will be gone and we’ll be left with a really unhappy customer.
JH: From a commercial point of view, it sounds like it would be cheaper to refund than it would be to fulfil those outstanding orders, though obviously there’s less value down the line in the way that these customers would view Norton if you were to do that. Have you considered just offering people their money back, is that an option?
JR: Under the terms that the company was sold, there’s no legal obligation on any of these deposits. Sudarsh has said he wants to get to a point where all of the customers who had placed a deposit are satisfied with the outcome. Our hope is that we get to build the bikes.
JH: Yep, mine too
JR: As the process that I outlined earlier continues, if there’s a sense that the customer doesn’t want a bike then we’re going to have to manage our way around that. Without predicting these outcomes, the aim is to talk to these customers and see how best we can keep them engaged with Norton. My own view, having worked in businesses that have long lead times and have taken customer deposits sometimes years in advance, generally if people do that and you can be reliable with your build estimates and communicate with them, the reason they can put up with it is because they really want the product. I think we’ll have issues with those that ordered speculatively but it’s our hope that we can get as many of these customers as possible onto the bikes they’ve paid for, so they can actually ride them.
JH: During my research, questions have been raised about the quality of some of the materials used on bikes that are already out there being ridden by customers. In some cases the customers don’t appear to be aware of these claims. Where do you stand with regards warranty claims?
JR: Can you give a specific area that we’re talking about here?
JH: Yes, V4 frames being built using sub standard Aluminium, where decisions have been made at Norton to continue using materials despite recommendations not to use them. Frame cracks have subsequently appeared. I believe there’s currently a case with a solicitor where an owner had a frame crack while they were on a track day. If it got to the stage where existing customers realised they were riding a bike that was dangerous, what kind of recourse would they have in terms of warranty claims? There could be an owner out there now who has owned a bike for six months or less, who is a month away from a cracked frame and a bike worth next to nothing.
JR: In a way, this isn’t too dissimilar to the question of customer deposits in that, according to the way the company was bought, while there are ongoing technical responsibilities in terms of vehicle integrity, the financial aspects of warranty lapsed with the failure of the previous company. We don’t want to leave it there. In parallel with the sales plan we’ve discussed, we’re aiming to get in touch with customers that have problems so that we can develop solutions. We’re open minded but obviously there’s a limit. We want to be fair and consistent, the last thing we want is for people to go away with a negative view of Norton. We want to make sure there isn’t a feeling that there are second class Norton owners who feel they missed the boat because they didn’t get the treatment that future customers will get. We’ll go through a technical review to discover what the challenges might be. Future bikes will go through the best quality assurance processes on the planet. If there are historic issues, we’ll seek to do the best we can.
JH: What’s the plan with the dealer network as it currently exists and how can it benefit from the experience you have in this area coupled with the capability TVS has?
JR: I’m not quite sure what we’ve got yet as we’ve lost dealers along the way who have given up on the franchise as it’s not working for them. In line with the customer review I mentioned, we’ve already begun a similar programme with the dealer network. I suspect that given the volumes and the parts supply issues, the dealer network isn’t a particularly flourishing part of the business. As far as I’m concerned the dealers are the heart of what a company does. They’re an asset and not a cost. When I was at Harley I reduced the stocking obligation and moved to a short lead time ordering system so they didn’t have to carry loads of stock but could still get customers onto bikes quickly enough to keep everyone happy. This also improved the margin structure of the business for them as well. Dealer network scale has to be in time with the production output, one can only increase when the other does. The Land Rover dealership in Coventry is the best example of this that I can give. When I first joined Land Rover that dealership had showroom space for one vehicle, bolted onto a Rover dealership on the Coventry ring road, with one parking space. This is in one of the largest cities in the country, that had a population of about 400,000 people. Roll it forward through what I did and then through what Ford and TATA did with Land Rover and it’s now a 40 vehicle showroom with 100-200 vehicles on site at anyone time, there’s a small area for off roading and it’s at a completely different level to what it once was. Norton will move through a similar journey with our dealership experience. What it ends up like, who knows?
It’ll be boutiquey for the immediate future, we’ve got to find a viable dealer proposition so that we can get investors to do the stuff that we want the dealers to do. We want our dealers to love their customers and in doing that they’ve got to love working with us, so we need to build a proposition that has the right mix of competence, investment and interest in our products. I’m hoping that at least some of the existing network finds what we’re going to do attractive. We’ll kick off with multi brand dealers because I don’t think any dealer could live off the Norton franchise yet. As things evolve, we’d hope to be able to move to dedicated one brand dealerships. I can’t imagine the dealers were particularly complimentary about Norton when you spoke to them were they?
JH: No, no no no. Not a single bit. The great thing is there wasn’t a single dealer I spoke to from the UK to the other side of the world that didn’t have passionate customers. That remained unquestionable, even as the Garner era Norton was on the lockstops, looking down the barrel of administration, customers were still trying to force deposits onto dealers. I think it’ll be a challenge. Not necessarily from the customers, but certainly from frustrated existing dealers who are just sick of being lied to.
JR: I’ve spent a long time working with dealer networks, some of them in dire straights and operating in terrible conditions. Along the way (from 1980) I was with the Talbot franchise, you’re way too young to remember them.
JH: The Matra Rancho was a fine automobile!
JR: Everyone is producing a Rancho style car now but back then it was a leading edge product, they were trend-setters! One of my first jobs was developing the dealer network for Talbot, traveling around looking for dealers. I think if there’s one stream that’s been constant in my career alongside the marketing one, it’s working with dealers. In some respects dealers are the toughest audience, in others they’re the simplest. They want two things, a franchise that makes them money and a franchise that excites them. A lot of franchises out there only deliver the first. If you can get that bit right and then add passion and interest and excitement, you have the right ingredients for a great dealership. The tough stage is going to be getting the dealer proposition right. I think once we get that right and once people realise that TVS is in this for the long run, I think we’ll find it relatively easy to get people to come along and play their part in the story.
JH: I agree. There’s a feeling that Norton won’t be able to move forward from the pre TVS era Norton because of current associations with Stuart Garner and Simon Skinner. Can you give confirmation that there is absolutely no involvement with Stuart Garner anymore? I think people are also keen to understand the decision as to why Simon Skinner has been retained and what his role will look like down the line with the new Norton.
JR: The Stuart Garner stuff is obviously confidential to the purchase deal so I’m not going to talk about it. The very least I can say is that Stuart has no operational management role in the business going forward. Any association that he has with us is consultative and based on the transition out of the old arrangement, so he’s not engaged with any of our people and he’s not involved with any of the management decision making. He’ll be on the site because we’re neighbours and everyone is seeking to be gracious. Simon is very different. Firstly I try to avoid twitter and the mindset that everything that appears on there is true. Whilst Simon was the second person in that partnership, he wasn’t the shareholder and he wasn’t the dominant decision maker as far as I can tell. The second thing is we took on Simon because we committed to taking on everybody. We said as part of the transition, we’d take on all the people and TUPE across all the staff without question. I’ve been through a rebuilding process at every other manufacturer I’ve worked for and in all of those we always took the existing people and gave them the opportunity to demonstrate their capability. We go in with completely open minds. All of our experience with Simon has been positive, I think his role in the organisation historically and from what I can determine based on me not being an expert and having not spent hours on this is, if you’re looking for the visionary lead on the bike concepts, it definitely comes from him and is lead by him. Are we going to agonise over the cause of the issues? Why did it go wrong before? Who knows. All of my knowledge is secondhand. I’ve read your articles. To me the simplicity of it is a visionary in Stuart Garner who wanted to do great things with the brand, which we can all applaud. To some extent he has done. When he took it over it was nothing and now it’s worth something of significant enough value that a company like TVS wanted to buy it and pay serious money for it, but along the way they ran out of cash. When companies run out of cash it’s like when families run out of cash, dumb things happen. I have no interest in dissecting all of that as it’s diversionary from what I’m doing. Going forward, Simon is a key player in the team and he will be supported and trusted and will help build an infrastructure around the company and we’ll move forward and expect him to do a great job for us. I think the reputation issues of the past affect everything. Products, dealers, the ethical view that people have of the company and all of those things need repairing and as we go forward we’ll address those. We have no reason to lack any confidence in Simon’s ability to do a great job for us going forward. None at all.
JR: I know other people disagree. I rate my ability to judge people, I’ve done so many times with people in the past and I’ve been more right than wrong. In my view, Simon is going to be a great asset. In the same way that the company has to prove itself to customers I think Simon has to prove to everyone that he’s been falsely judged in the past.
JH: So if we imagine a hypothetical scenario where Simon’s involvement starts to have an impact on employees and customers to the detriment of new Norton, where you’re struggling to build supply networks with suppliers and you’re having morale issues with your staff because they know that they’re still working with someone who in their opinion has done lots and lots of bad things. What happens then?
JR: I don’t want to be glib, but I don’t plan to be there.
JH: Yes, but unfortunately you might end up there.
JR: We’re not going to end up there, we are not going to end up there. Norton isn’t about one or two or three or four people. It’s about an organisation working together and executing through it’s products and its customer experience. When that isn’t right, it gets fixed. We want to get away from a situation where the personalities overtake the organisation. We’re not going to have a performance matrix where we ask dealers and suppliers and customers to rate our management. We’re going to be very alert to the way people think about us and what they worry about and what improvements they want from us and they’ll be managed on a company level, but we’re not going to make it a personality competition. Simon is part of the team but it’s the team and the brand and the organisation thats our proposition, it’s not about buying the story from one or two individuals. The machine in all senses is what’s going to matter in the future.
JR: Look, I’ve been involved in twitter disputes in the past, when I was with the London Taxi company. Totally unfair and horribly personalised. I took it for what it was and ignored it, my wife got terribly upset by it. I would like to have walked round and had a word with the people involved but of course they like to hide themselves. But you’ve got to put it behind you, the root of the problem is there was a company that was failing. In the minds of the outside world it became too focused on a couple of individuals, some of that was inevitable. Going forward, I don’t expect to be the person that people think is delivering everything. My job is to get a team together based on what we have plus anything we need to bring in. At the end of it, I hope people think ‘what a great bunch of people they have at Norton’. I don’t want one person to take the credit, equally, I don’t think one person should take the blame either.
JH: Okay. Let’s change the subject slightly. From Featherbed Nortons back in the day until the mid nineties, racing has played a huge role in Norton’s story. Is there a plan to go racing?
JR: Yes. I can remember the days when the Featherbed frame was mentioned in the same tones as the Church. Nobody knew quite what was in it or what it actually was but it was one of those iconic things that you shroud great legends in. Racing is at the very heart of Norton. In my mind, it’s not an optional thing. We are going to be back in racing. What scale and form? How do we do that? I have no idea yet but I think we’ve got to find a formula for racing that fits with where we are with the business. It’s very easy to throw yourself way forward and come up with grand schemes for things like this, but our challenge will be how do we knit a credible racing programme into what we want to achieve in the future. We haven’t worked that one out yet. Going racing is part of what re enlivening the whole Norton experience for people needs. Those that can remember Norton’s racing history from the Geoff Duke era will know that it’s very real. More recently within it’s time frame Norton’s racing success rate was phenomenal. Norton’s racing credentials sit there, latent. I know there were some efforts made with the TT that didn’t work out as well as everyone hoped but there has to be a plan. It’s not a day one job, but racing is definitely on the horizon for us. I’m now going to get every race team in the country writing to me aren’t I?
JH: Probably. You mentioned the horizon, which leads me onto my question about the future and particular aspects of the brand. As we’re both very much aware, we are in the era of transport users seeing a shift from internal combustion to electric propulsion. Alternative forms of propulsion is an unavoidable aspect of any future plan for manufacturers. When I’m sitting at home scratching my head with the Norton story and trying to second guess where it’s going, at the same time as looking at how various engine rights have been sold to Chinese manufacturers, I can see an EV Norton Commando in the next five or two years. Similar to what Ford is doing with the Mustang, the brand name and legacy that the Norton Commando carries is immediate. Bikers will picture something in their head when they hear the name Norton Commando that should do something positive for them. In terms of the drivetrain, it stands to reason that there’s an opportunity here to take an iconic brand name in the Norton Commando, pair it with an EV platform and offer something that’s exciting to bikers of the future. How does EV sit on the TVS landscape and is that something you’ve considered?
JR: Yes, I think TVS are on that. I think every IC (Internal Combustion) manufacturer in the world has got plans afoot. Some of them come from an economy and environmental perspective, others come from a performance based one. I drive a hybrid car myself and it’s fascinating. The potential for partial electrification and then full electrification is enormous. It’s not a day one, week one or even six month priority but it’ll feature further down the line. What you’ve touched on is the right thing, we don’t want it to be a commuter thing. Given that our brand is all about racing, technology and coolness when we come up with a solution it will reflect those brand values. Clever drive options sit nicely. In fact, in my engineering days, I did a range extended electric drive for a milk float in 1968. I also did a hydrogen powered unit as well.
JH: Hydrogen fascinates me. I know that Toyota is making big steps in this area and I’m aware of the constraints that two wheels presents this solution, I expected some noise from motorcycle manufacturers in this area by now.
JR: Agreed. We had six London Taxis running around during the London Olympics that used a Hydrogen electric drivetrain. The partnership that we worked on for that had also developed a hydrogen powered scooter for Suzuki I think as a prototype. The packaging worked well for a bike and it would suit a big bike. It has the same ease of use as petrol in that you pour some stuff in the tank and off you go. I think as with all things, whatever we do has to add to the brand and can’t be degrative. We can’t have a situation like Norton had in the seventies when it produced those horrible commuter bikes where people go “Ergh, what’s that!?” Everything has to integrate and feel right. It won’t be in year one but it won’t long after that we’re looking at how we integrate alternative combustion. The biggest challenge is communicating the rawness of internal combustion through the bars and the seat. The real legacy investment in a motorcycle, where the personality of the bike along with the largest margins, mainly goes into engine manufacturing. Not only is your investment geared towards it, but the character and personality of the vehicle you’re building comes from it. EV is a real opportunity because you can do so much with clever power control systems. It’s also absolutely essential that manufacturers own it. The last thing you want is the EV powertrain providers to be providing the same experience in every bike it goes in, you’ll then struggle to create anything unique or distinctive in your machine. For no other reason than that, we’ve got to get hold of this part of any EV project as it determines the personality of the product going forward.
JH: Well there we go. Thanks very much for your time, John. Good luck out there!
JR: Thanks very much
A final note from me.
JH: I think John Russell sounds like the right guy for the sizeable job that is in front of him. I think his words about Simon Skinner might come back to haunt him, but he appears to be the kind of man that could take that on the chin and deal with it. The future plans for Norton are full of promise, though I’m sure there’ll be some short term pain getting things into the kind of shape they need to be in to add the scale they need in order to fulfil old orders and new ones. I fully intend to carry on telling the Stuart Garner era Norton story, but I’m also looking forward to being able to share the success that TVS deserves if they get this right. It’s not John Russell or TVS’s responsibility to make good the bad that Stuart Garner created. Aside from them legally not having to do so as per the conditions of the sale, Stuart Garner is to blame for what Stuart Garner did, nobody else. Also, if you’re a YouTuber and you’ve just read this, make sure to credit the source if you use any of it for reference purposes in a video. This stuff takes time and effort to put together, so don’t be a dick. If you’re reading this and wondering if I’m talking about you, I probably am. Cheers.