The man who bought Norton: ‘I saw the opportunity to buy the Norton brand and took it.’
Norton’s recent history reads like the script for Netflix’s next blockbuster drama series. From soaring highs and racing glory of the 1950s and 60s to financial ruin in the 1970s and 80s, and back again (on several occasions), the story veers from one emotional extreme to the other.
But finally, following decades of uncertainty and heartbreak, culminating in the bankruptcy of the Stuart Garner-owned Norton in 2020, perhaps the world’s most evocative motorcycle marque is back on the right track, this time under the ownership of two-wheel giant TVS Motor, the Indian manufacturer that purchased the brand in April 2020.
TVS has rejuvenated Norton with a £100-million investment, a completely new HQ and state-of-art-manufacturing facility based in Solihull, new staff, new working practices and new management – this is new chapter of Norton, and a very exciting one at that.
And while we know that new Norton, under the leadership of former Lotus boss, Dr Robert Hentschel, has re-engineered and redelivered the hand-crafted V4SV superbike and 961 Commando, created the V4CR Café Racer and is developing all-new high-end machines to a buzz of global anticipation, few outside TVS know the man who spearheaded the Norton rescue in the first place.
That man is Sudarshan Venu, Managing Director of TVS Motor Company. An experienced motorcyclist and alumnus of the universities of Pennsylvania and Warwick, Sudarshan has ridden bikes on four continents and been key to the expansion of TVS. We managed to obtain an exclusive interview with Sudarshan during the launch of the new TVS X, an all-new Indian-made premium electric scooter in Dubai recently.
When did you first become interested in buying Norton?
I grew up around motorcycles and around TVS. I knew what motorcycle brands were, and I obviously knew Norton. I knew the racing history of Norton, that they have a great history of producing bikes and a racing heritage. It was a brand that stood out from the start.
Then when I joined TVS I thought: when is the right time to do something more premium? A few years before we actually bought Norton we were already thinking about moving towards a premium product and Norton was one of the brands I thought really has potential; an iconic spirit that was really worth reviving.
When Norton went into bankruptcy in January 2020, I was co-incidentally in London on business. I saw the opportunity to buy the Norton brand and took it.
So you were already looking at Norton before the company was in difficulty?
It was something that I kept an eye on as I was obviously aware of the history and racing of the brand.
Since April 2020 when TVS took ownership of Norton, what has been the greatest challenge?
Communication and building a team during COVID-19 was a challenge. That set us back in what we had planned and predicted. But now as travel has opened and the pandemic has eased, we can have people on site in Solihull and build a team. The progress we have made in the last 12 months is good progress. We have started selling the 961 Commando and the V4SV, and now the limited-edition V4CR Café Racer. With investment, it is now coming together and we are excited to see the progress.
What have you personally enjoyed most about the Norton journey?
To have a brand that has so much legacy and charm, whilst at the same time is able to move forward. This transition and transformation, combined with the fact we are building cutting-edge bikes in the UK with new technologies, has been exciting to see.
It’s good to see new models emerging…
Yes. I was due to ride the V4 Café Racer at the Goodwood Festival of Speed but couldn’t due to the rain and the cancellation. It was something I was looking forward to.
What can we expect in the next two to three years?
I see a modern luxury motorcycle brand selling across many countries. This will be with exclusive bikes that really represent the modern luxury motorcycle and are the most desirable bikes in the world. They also need to be true to the Norton character, with world-class standards.
Above: Mr Venu with the new TVS X
How much of your focus is on Norton?
We have many things going on in the TVS group, but this [the TVS X] is certainly one of our initiatives. Electric is obviously a big focus for us globally and also the fast-growing Indian market. All these projects are keeping us excited, keeping me excited, but Norton is certainly one of the interesting projects.
At the group we have a good management team who are very passionate and committed. We have (Norton CEO) Dr Robert Hentschel’s leadership and also have some excellent external advisors who help us create the future of Norton. I’m passionate about Norton, therefore I do try to visit as often as I can and get involved with the recreation of this wonderful brand. So, yes, I do spend a fair bit of time focused on Norton but, as I said, there is a very good management team in place.
Which new markets are you looking to enter and what excites you the most?
India is the largest fastest growing economy in the world and also the largest two-wheeled market in the world. India is very important to TVS. We have gained market share and launched aspirational products (such as the new TVS X all-electric premium scooter). In addition to the Indian market, some of the African and Asian markets will increase in consumption and for these we have a great position with market-specific products, good distribution and a strong brand. Latin America is also fast growing, and the product range is being developed for opportunities in Europe.
Our vision is to transform the quality of life through exciting, safe and responsible mobility products, which have to be sustainable. I think this is the progression TVS will follow in the next two to three years.
How do you think motorcycling will change globally in the next five to ten years?
The world of mobility is changing. Sustainability and electric vehicles are the main things. We are also seeing more premium products. This is why we have launched the new TVS X today. The next steps we make will be fast steps. There are going to be lots of possibilities and change and this is where TVS, with our electric bikes and Norton, has the opportunity to embrace and harness this opportunity.