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The motorcycle industry can often seem like the forgotten man in the world of zero-emission transportation.
While companies like Harley Davidson are moving forward with e-bikes, many other manufacturers are dragging their feet away from internal combustion engines (ICE).
However, the famous British motorcycle manufacturer Norton recently secured funding from the Advanced Propulsion Center (APC) to help it switch to electric power. Auto Futures caught up with Norton CEO Robert Hentschel to find out more.
A changing landscape
“The world is electrifying, that’s why it’s extremely important to have a plan in addition to the internal combustion engine – we all have to look ahead,” says Hentschel.
“Demand for electric motorcycles and electric vehicle mobility solutions has become significant internationally and the UK has its own net zero ambitions. Although motorcycles are not currently considered within the 2030 ban deadline, there is increasing focus on alleviating pressures on mobility infrastructure: pressures such as congestion and parking, as well as than the global air quality concern. »
As a result of this growing demand, Norton sought and received a “significant investment” from APC. With this funding, Norton has created a new 30-month project to create an electric motorcycle that blends Norton history with racing performance, touring range and lightweight handling.
“Securing APC19 funding now means we can lead the journey to electrification through our ‘Norton Zero Emissions Project’; a project that aims to expand our ever-growing engineering capabilities and develop world-class electric motorcycles,” says Hentschel.
Describing the funding as a “momentous opportunity” for the company, CEO Hentschel believes the project will put Norton in the driving seat of bicycle electrification.
“As a brand, Norton Motorcycles has innovation and design at its heart, and the funding will allow us to inject this integral part of the company’s DNA into the production of a world-class electric motorcycle, as well as scale the development capability of VE in general,” he explains.
However, the company’s transition from ICE to EV will not be easy.
Skills and training
“There is a recognized skills shortage in the UK and the Zero Emission Norton project intends to address this,” says Hentschel.
Of course, this skills shortage is not unique to the UK. However, upskilling a workforce is a very different proposition for Norton compared to large multinational companies such as Volkswagen.
“There is a race for talent with this emerging skill set, and with our position in the market, we are confident that we will succeed. One of the elements of continuing this journey is to train our employees: to transform their mechanical training into electrical and mechatronic training. We have the ability to train and develop our people, while building a global supply chain from the UK under this funding,” says Hentschel.
“Providing employment and development opportunities is a major focus for Norton and we have invested heavily in our team. In the past year alone, we have created more than 150 new jobs, with an additional 250-300 direct jobs and an additional 500-800 indirect supply chain jobs expected over the next three years. Part of expanding the job offer also includes developing the apprenticeship program with local education industries to provide career opportunities to the local community.
However, Norton is not working alone in its efforts. As part of the Zero Emission Project, the company works with a wide range of partners to ensure its bikes and staff are up to the task.
“All of our world-class partners share the same vision of innovation in the production of electric motorcycles and they are the leaders in their field,” says Hentschel.
“Delta Cosworth will design the battery, while HiSpeed Ltd. will contribute its skills in the design and manufacture of motors and inverters. Formaplex Technologies has expertise in manufacturing precision composites, and M&I Materials will support dielectric cooling applications with its MIVOLT fluids. Indra Renewable Technologies specializes in breakthrough home vehicle charging technology, and WMG, University of Warwick, specializes in battery technology, modeling and toolchain development.
The overall goal of the project is not to produce a bike that departs radically from Norton’s current offerings. Despite the ICE’s switch to electric requiring a significant overhaul for the company, Hentschel thinks now is not the right time to start throwing babies out with the bathwater – history must count for Something.
Build the Electric Norton
“As a brand, Norton Motorcycles has innovation and design at its heart, and the funding will allow us to inject this integral part of the company’s DNA into the production of a world-class electric motorcycle, as well as scale VE’s development capability in general,” Hentschel says.
“The goal is to produce an electric motorcycle that bridges the gap between an EV and an ICE, making it comparable with the same real-world weight, performance and range through deep battery integration. , engine and chassis, alongside extensive use of composite materials to create a lightweight solution.
Of course, we’re still two and a half years away from seeing what an electric Norton would look like in practice, but according to Hentschel, it should be a machine.
“It will be a vision of modern luxury that has been beautifully crafted to not only excite existing riders, but also inspire new ones. Our goal is to build a line of power products that blends Norton’s design DNA with uncompromising performance, touring range and lightweight handling.
Seeking to combine these three aspects is unprecedented territory for an electric motorcycle, according to Norton. When the funding was announced, the company proclaimed:
“To date, electric products offer either range or performance, because the weight and size of the battery compromise the design of the vehicle. However, using the extensive engineering and design experience within the Norton team, this project seeks to eliminate that trade-off while simultaneously delivering racing performance and touring range.
We’ll have to wait and see if Norton can live up to its ambitions.
Promisingly, however, the company won’t need to completely retool its production line to accommodate the new bikes.
“Our production line is flexible and can be adapted to the production of various vehicles, including electric motorcycles,” says Hentschel.
“There will be equipment adaptations needed to accommodate the production of electric motorcycles, as well as the acquisition of new equipment for the production of cells and batteries. However, this equipment will complement our existing facilities to enable the production chain to remain flexible.
Of course, while Norton is working on developing an electric motorcycle, it won’t be abandoning its ICE bikes altogether.
“As a car manufacturer, we are aware of our responsibilities to support the UK government in its mission for a net zero car future,” says Hentschel.
“In the meantime, we recently launched and opened order books for our redesigned V4SV superbike. Our state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Solihull served as the base for this project.”
“Our new V4CR prototype unveiled at Motorcycle Live in 2021 has received outstanding customer feedback. New models require 30-40 months of development from concept to delivery, so our short-term goal is to maintain continuity of production by redesigning and developing existing Norton models and then, in the medium term, will come brand new designs that will redefine the Norton brand.