NORTON DEAL WORTH MILLIONS
Norton have sold rights for a 650cc engine to Zongshen, in a move that secures the future of the British business
When news broke that Norton had sold the design for their 650cc parallel-twin engine to Chinese firm Zongshen, the reaction was mixed. Some people were questioning why they’d done that instead of finishing their current bikes, while others were worried that the Norton brand would be watered down. We spoke to CEO Stuart Garner to find out just what the deal is all about and why they’ve done it.
“Well, we’ve got all the pub experts jumping on us and saying we’ve sold out to China, which is absolutely not the case,” says Garner. “It’s actually the reverse. We’ve been developing the 650cc platform for ourselves and, after speaking to Zongshen, we’ve completely separately developed a lowperformance engine. The motor is designed to be cheap and mass produced, with use only in the Asian region or perhaps South America. This engine and bike are not coming to Europe.
“It’s a 100% different engine, that won’t even be branded Norton. We’ve just licensed the rights to use it to Zongshen, which will give them Euro4 compliance. It’s very important now because in order to secure trade deals with European companies, these factories must be homologated; Euro4 is now the accepted global standard.”
Back in Blighty
So, if the Zongshen engine is different to the Norton mill, what’s the deal with the new Norton 650 twin?
“Even five years ago, we knew the superbike would be a V4, so that we could drop the two cylinders and produce a parallel twin,” explains Garner. “That’ll give us a very current and modern platform to add to our range. It’s why we made the V4 oversized to 1200cc, rather than a litre platform. We can share pistons and just lengthen the stroke for the increased capacity, while they’ll share the same gearbox, clutch and valve gear.
“The 650 will be the entry-point Norton, and occupy the same space as the Triumph Thruxton or the Ducati Monster. It won’t be a big-volume bike, as that’s not our style, but it will almost certainly be our most popular bike.
“If anything, the Zongshen deal has sped up the development of our 650cc motor, because there was a strong commercial element to it, so we invested more resource than we would have done had there not been this deal. It’s a 20-year deal, too, so going forward we get a royalty for every 650 engine they make – and last year they made 4 million engines. It means we now have a stable future for the business that allows us to invest and develop even more models.”
‘The new Norton 650 will almost certainly be our most popular bike’