Since this article was written, Norton has sadly announced that Atlas and Ranger will no longer head to production. Customers who had paid deposits were sent an email early in September 2022.
Following that, Norton's parent company TVS sent a statement to MCN confirming that production would not proceed.
According to MCN, TVS stated that “Over the last two years, our passion and focus has been to develop a new range… that will deliver the brand into the modern era. As such… there are no plans to produce the Atlas range in the near future.”
It's a shame, as it seems customers will now have to attempt to get their money back from the liquidators (BDO).
Additionally, it's now clear that Norton's focus is wholly on the exclusive end of the motorcycle market. (Original article below.)
With TVS Motor Company's purchase of Norton Motorcycles, the Norton Atlas Nomad and Ranger should be ready for launch in the next 18 months. The concepts will form Norton's modern-classic scrambler range (or if you prefer retro adventure bike range).
This will be greeted as excellent news for fans of the brand. Especially true, considering that at the beginning of 2020 this brand's existence was in jeopardy.
The twice-resuscitated marque's new financial troubles were confirmed at the beginning of the year, to great dismay and disappointment. Though for some it was merely confirmation of what had long been suspected – things just weren't right, financially speaking.
Norton Into Administration
In late January 2020, the firm was forced into administration. A hefty unpaid HMRC tax bill of hundreds of thousands of pounds was cited. Meaning 228 pensioners were left out of pocket, to the considerable tune of £14 million – due to the maladministration of three pension funds. Former owner Stuart Garner was the sole trustee.
In relation to the schemes, the Pensions Ombudsman's final and binding determination was that: “… the Trustee acted dishonestly and in breach of his duty of no conflict, his duty not to profit and his duty to act with prudence… ” [June 2020].
Though, it was also noted by the Ombudsman “… that the Schemes had not been, in law, initially set up for an improper purpose… “
TVS Motor Company Buyout
To the rescue then, came TVS Motor Company Limited (in April 2020). It's the world's sixth-largest motorcycle manufacturing group. Furthermore, not the first Indian company to bail out a beleaguered, British brand.
After forming a new subsidiary [Project 303 Bidco Limited] (registered in England and Wales) the firm bought most but not all of Norton's assets for circa sixteen million of the Queen's. Of that, intellectual property accounts for £15 million with plant and machinery in addition to stock making up the majority of the remaining £1 million, valued respectively at £649,998 and £349,998.
So, the good news is that with this purchase, those “228 ordinary working people” (who invested in the pension schemes) seem likely to get their money back. And so should all preferential creditors.
Additionally, the new owners have preserved the majority of the existing jobs at Norton, with the services of most of the workforce retained.
Norton's new interim CEO, John Russell has been doing the media rounds since early May 2020. He suggested that the focus of the new management would initially be to honour existing bike orders.
It's worth noting that the terms of the sale mean the new company has “… no legal obligation to fulfil the deposits“. However, one can imagine that (from a good public relations perspective) it's something that the new owners will be keen to do. And Russell has stated as much.
John Hogan (Bike World and Superbike Magazine) noted earlier in the year, that there were 466 customer deposits for Norton bikes. He speculated that with Norton's previous build rate [1.2 bikes per week] it would take about 10.2 years to complete the backlog.
The calculation is actually closer to about 7.4 years which is still far too long a timescale for a disgruntled customer base to handle.
Thankfully, according to the marque's new top executive, the production rate was throttled by cost rather than by production capability.
In any case, there may well be some reduction in the waiting list as a result of customers choosing not to move forward with the purchase. To that end, there doesn't appear to be any qualms about getting production back on track.
The new facility will produce the Norton Atlas models
On the topic of production, under its new management, the firm is set to relocate to a new larger, upgraded facility in Solihull, Birmingham. This move away from the Donington Hall Castle factory suggests a more pragmatic approach to the business of building bikes.
The new plant should be completed by the end of 2020, with an official opening set for the new year (2021). It's here that orders for the Atlas will be completed.
Initially, production will be focused on forty Commando 961 bikes, Following that, the V4SS machines will be built. It's only then that the retro scramblers, the Atlas twins will head to the production line. Which entirely makes sense.
It's the Commando and the V4 for which customers have been waiting for the longest. And of course, those machines initially represent the greatest revenue potential.
Norton Atlas: Set for Production 2023
Revealed in November 2018 as prototype scrambler concepts, the Atlas range embodies Norton's signature, classic styling and refinement.
And much like the Commando taps into the heritage of the brand. The Atlas moniker once belonged to a 750cc Norton, parallel-twin, scrambler model which launched in 1963.
Back to the present day, it wouldn't be far-fetched to suggest that there's a fair amount of work to do before this latest iteration of Atlas is in showrooms.
Norton's original intention was to make the Atlas available in two variations of the scrambler theme. One is a street scrambler (Nomad) and the other is a proper off-roader (Ranger).
This follows the lead of other manufacturers like Ducati and Triumph, both of whom have road and off-road derivatives of their scrambler models.
Atlas Product Plan
Russell thought the product plan for Norton looked “spot on“ when the Atlas concepts were revealed in 2018. And, that was before the new owners had even considered purchasing the marque.
It's no surprise then that Norton under Mr Russell's stewardship will continue with the plan to bring the Atlas range to production in 2021/22. However, he agrees that there's still a considerable amount of development to undertake before that's a reality.
The Atlas range will be powered by a 650cc parallel-twin. When dry, the weight of the bike is said to be 178kg, with a claimed power output of 84bhp @11,000rpm and 47lbft (64Nm) of torque [RPM not specified].
And of course, those specifications could change by the time the production-ready version of the bike is unveiled.
Beyond the Atlas‘ heritage credentials and specifications, the range will likely appeal to a wider spectrum of riders. For unlike most of the recent Nortons, the machines can be classified as affordable.
Based on the previously released prices (£9,995 for the Atlas Nomad and £11,995 for the Atlas Ranger) both bikes are certainly within the reach of a more typical motorcycle purchaser.
Put simply, the Atlas has the potential to become (to Norton) what the Scrambler Ducati became to Ducati. That's to say: an incredibly successful machine that dramatically altered the fortunes of an exclusive motorcycle marque.
With the Scrambler, Ducati widened its appeal, yet retained its brand-defining characteristics and importantly at a lower price point. Norton might be able to do the same with the Atlas.
A launch date hasn't been given yet but the Atlas Nomad is expected by the end of 2021. In the meantime register your interest on Norton's website.
Update 27.10.2021: Atlas Production Delayed Until 2023
Since this article was written Norton Motorcycles has released two statements indicating that the Atlas will be delayed.
Initially, on 21 May 2021, Norton indicated that production would not begin in 2021 (as previously suggested). Following that, a statement on 26 October 2021 said: “… that until the product plan is completed, we cannot guarantee that we will go ahead with production of this model.” Additionally, “… if we do decide to produce it, we want to be clear that production will begin no earlier than 2023.“
Speculation might point to delivery of the Atlas at some point in 2024 or beyond – if it goes into production at all!
For riders who have any intention of purchasing the Atlas (assuming production) – if registering interest with Norton could be beneficial to the cause of production – now is probably the time to do that.