Norton signs engine deal with Zongshen

Norton have sold a licence for a 650cc engine to Zongshen but what does it actually mean for the business?

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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 said it would be good for the business, 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 and why they’ve done it.

“Well we’ve got all the pub experts jumping on 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 low performance engine. The engine 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.”

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“It’s a 100% different engine that won’t even be branded Norton. We’ve just licensed the right to use that engine to Zongshen, which will give them Euro 4 compliance. It’s become very important now because to secure trade deals with companies in Europe, these factories need to be homologated – Euro 4 has become 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?

“Even as far back as five years ago, we knew the superbike would be a V4, so that we could drop the two cylinders and produce a parallel twin,” adds Garner. “That will give us a very current and modern platform to renew the 961. That’s the reason why we made the V4 oversized to 1200cc, rather than the litre platform of our competitors. We can share pistons and just lengthen the stroke for the increased capacity, while they will share the same gearbox, clutch and valve gear.

“The 650 will be the entry-point Norton and will occupy the same space as the Triumph Thruxton or the Ducati Monster. It won’t be a big volume bike, as that’s just 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.”

Where is the V4?

With all this talk about the new 650 engine, it would be easy to forget about the V4 that was unveiled last year but Garner says they’re on track to deliver the bike to owners soon.

“We’re going through the homologation process at the moment and we’ve got a bike going through the ABS testing process right now. A lot of the production parts are ready and on the shelf for when the Euro 4 certification is done – it’s just a case of assembling them.

“We want to be delivering the bike towards the end of this year but we’re not going to rush it just to get it ready for a set date. We’ve spoken to the customers and everyone is happy that the bike will be ready when it’s ready.

“The SS models all sold last July and there’s a waiting list now for people who want those bikes in case anyone drops out. The RR is still for sale, but we’ve sold six months’ worth of supply of that, so if someone does want to buy an RR they can, but it will be a 12 month wait.”

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Jordan Gibbons

By Jordan Gibbons

News Editor, owns some old bikes. Should know better.