Following the Norton brand's revival under TVS. Cathcart sat down with the company CCO, Christian Gladwell, to chat about the brands future... Photos: Kel Edge.

In June 2022 Christian Gladwell, 48, was appointed CCO/Chief Commercial Officer of Norton Motorcycles, ready to relaunch the brand under new ownership and “building upon the brand’s heritage, delivering unique and inspiring customer experiences” as the press release says.

In June 2022 Christian Gladwell, 48, was appointed CCO/Chief Commercial Officer of Norton Motorcycles, ready to relaunch the brand under new ownership.

In June 2022 Christian Gladwell, 48, was appointed CCO/Chief Commercial Officer of Norton Motorcycles, ready to relaunch the brand under new ownership.

After spending eight years as a British Army officer serving in Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, Gladwell worked for the BAR Formula 1 Team, and then briefly for Morgan Stanley in London, before co-founding Human Digital in 2008 as one of the UK’s first Social Media marketing agencies. After working for clients like Microsoft, Levi’s Jeans and the BBC, with which Gladwell helped re-launch the iPlayer in 2010, M&C Saatchi acquired Human Digital in 2011, with Gladwell leading the agency’s integration into the adworld giant.


Read Cathcart’s review of the new Commando 961 here…


This saw him work with clients as diverse as the 2012 London Olympics organisers, the US Department of Defence and Burberry, before he left to join games technology company Machine Zone in California’s Silicon Valley, where as President of Marketing he promoted leading titles like Game of War and Mobile Strike, generating over $2.5bn revenue per year. In 2018 Gladwell returned to the UK and was appointed Global CEO for M&C Saatchi Performance where he worked with luxury brands like Burberry, Breitling, and Bulgari, before leaving in June this year to join Norton. The chance to quiz him about his plans for Norton’s future strategies revealed startling choices for the historic brand’s direction.

Cathcart had the chance to sit down with Christian Gladwell to chat about the future of the historic brand...

Cathcart had the chance to sit down with Christian Gladwell to chat about the future of the historic brand…


AC:  Christian, what’s your exact role today at Norton Motorcycles? 


CG:  I’m Chief Commercial Officer, which means I look after all the customer facing operations, so sales, after sales, servicing, warranty-  the community aspect of Norton. But I’m also custodian of the brand, which means I also have quite a large remit in design as it affects the customer experience, which sees me cross over a lot with the internal motorcycle design team. 



AC:  What background do you have in the motorcycle industry? 


CG:  I’ve ridden bikes for more than 20 years, but I’ve never previously worked in the motorcycle industry. In my garage at the moment I’ve got a Ducati Paul Smart which I can’t really change gear on, but it’s a thing of absolute beauty. But I have a Husqvarna Norden 901, and I’ve ridden part of the Trans European Trail on that, which was fun. I’ve just bought an MV Agusta TurismoVeloce with the SCS gearbox and those great fully integrated luggage panniers. Before coming here I did have a 2016-plate Norton Commando 961, which I would like to tell you I had a love-hate relationship with, but in fact I ended up with a hate-hate relationship with it, so I don’t own that motorcycle anymore. But I have just bought a new 2023 Commando – a Café Racer version, in fact. 



AC: With that motorcycle heritage, it sounds like you’re well equipped to help TVS decide what bikes they should finance the development of for Norton. But according to the June 17 press release concurrent with your appointment, this will be predominantly electric rather than combustion powered models in the future. What’s the strategy behind that, given that Norton is primarily a sports brand?


CG:  Well – IS Norton a sports brand? I think it’s an innovative brand – there’s been lots of different innovation during its history. So I would define Norton as an innovative Modernist brand that went racing, specifically in the Isle of Man, but also in the back-then equivalent of MotoGP and suchlike, and was very storied. But with regards to electrification, I think that die has been cast, albeit there’s a lot of nervousness around that.



AC:  What is the die?


CG:  The die is that from an automotive perspective, electrification is the near future. That’s non-negotiable, that cat is out of the bag for every manufacturer out there, so the future IS going to be electric. There may well be alternative fuels in there, there may well be alternative propulsion units, people talk about hydrogen, synthetic fuels, but if you look at government legislation around the world, that die has been cast. No more combustion motors. With the amount of money that has been and is being put into the global electrification infrastructure, I think it would be fairly ridiculous not to admit that, and indeed to embrace it. And by embrace it, I mean embrace the opportunity to revolutionise the relationship between rider and motorcycle. If you look at the data it’s very, very clear – the number of people exiting the sport of motorcycling, of riding bikes 500cc and above in the developed world, far outstretches the number of people entering it. So if we don’t change, it won’t exist in future – that’s very clear, that’s not just my idea, it’s simple arithmetic. So we have this opportunity with electrification to welcome new generations into this wonderful sport of motorised two-wheeling.


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The relationship between the internal combustion engine and electrification remains to be seen – obviously governments will play a leading role in that, and vis-a-vis the UK government we’re on certain steering committees working on that, and we have a close relationship with them, obviously alongside other manufacturers, too. When we talk about a relationship between the combustion engine and electrification, I like to use the analogy of music. I have around 3,500 vinyl records in my collection, and growing, sadly to my family’s chagrin, everything from Sinatra to 1978 original pressings of Roxy Music albums with the artwork and blah blah blah. And twice a week my wife and I, if the kids ever shut up, will sit down, I’ll make her a Negroni, and we’ll listen to some Sinatra etcetera. And we’ll listen to it on a Pro-Ject, which is an Austrian company’s wonderful turntable with a one-piece super stiff, but lightweight carbon tonearm which delivers an insane sound quality, and you’ll never beat the warmth of the sound, the richness of the sound that you get when you listen to those vinyl pressings. So it’s an event – but I still have Spotify! So that’s an analogy of how we at Norton see the relationship between electrification and ICE technology.


Christian says that Norton will be heading in the electric direction. The same as multiple other European manufacturers.

Christian says that Norton will be heading in the electric direction. The same as multiple other European manufacturers.


AC:  Will Norton remain a prestigious sporting brand in the electrical era?


CG:  Well, it will certainly be prestigious, but we like to say that we’re creating the first luxury brand of electric motorcycle – that’s what Norton will be. So we talk about modern luxury, and we’re very specific about what we mean by that. We talk about luxury as a fundamental part of being human, it’s one of the things that defines us. There’s never been a time in our species when we haven’t aspired to things that lift our soul. That’s what the Commando is all about. This is a machine that might not be the most powerful in its class, might not be the fastest in its class, but it makes you feel a way that no other machine makes you feel, and that is what we aspire to, and that’s what we mean by luxury. When we talk about modern, we don’t mean new, we talk about an intellectual understanding of Modernism, so an appreciation for your past, but a rejection of conventional thinking, a move to abstraction, playing with form and materiality, process, innovative techniques.


Yamaha 2

And when we look at those vintage flat-tankers out there in our lobby, we see a very clear line between what we’re trying to do, and them. You’ll hear us taking about chasing millimetres, not miles per hour, so when you sit on the Commando, you’ll see that it’s got the narrowest saddle in its class, and how we sculpt the cutaways in the tanks, so as to make the rider feel integrated. Integration is one of our key design principles, and we’re absolutely rigorous with our application of that. So yes, Norton will not only remain prestigious, but we will seek to push that on, and build the first true luxury brand in motorcycling for the future – because it is all about the future here. Norton celebrates its 125th birthday in 2023 but we’re already talking about the next 125 years. 



AC:  How long will Norton continue to make ICE bikes? Beyond the notional UK cutoff of 2030, perhaps with synthetic fuels?


CG:  As long as we can… I can’t give you a definite because the laws governing that have not yet been legislated in Britain. We’re also moving internationally, and there will be different rules for different countries around the world – but, yes, as long as we can, we will make ICE bikes, but we can also imagine a world in which electrification plays a leading role with urban mobility, with urban exploration. We think there’s a key role Norton can play in that, to welcome new generations into this wonderful thing called motorcycling, but in establishing the relationship between the rider and the machine over the next 30 years, we think we can play a role in doing that. But we also think that alongside commuting to work on your electric bike, and you’ll be able to enjoy your Sunday morning ride on your Norton Commando or V4.



AC:  I understand that you’ve decided to cancel the 650 Atlas twin-cylinder models that you inherited from the Stuart Garner era. What’s your reason for doing that?


CG:  Well, when TVS bought Norton, one of the first things to do was understand what came with that sale, and then understand what platform was the most financially prudent over the longer term to invest in. So we’ve picked the V4, at the expense of the 650cc models. We think that we can get a bigger family of more attractive machines, a more compelling family of machines, from that platform.


Ducati

AC:  With a greater profit margin per unit, owing to the higher list price?


CG:  The financials had to stack up and clearly, as you know, one of the things that Norton has been famous for in the past is perhaps not being the most financially savvy company moving forward. And if we’re going to build a sustainable business in all forms of that word, then we must be financially prudent, and self-sufficient. That’s a very clear message from TVS upper management, and it’s one of the reasons why you see the executive line-up that we have forming in front of you, who may have expertise from outside the world of motorcycling, but they have expertise in running businesses well, and running businesses profitably. 



AC:  So the 650 Twins were cancelled because you wanted to focus on the V4 as a prestige platform, and you couldn’t focus on the Twins at the same time? 


CG:  No, because within two years this company has gone from being in administration, to standing up the £40 million pound state-of-the-art facility that we’re sitting in now, to launching two substantially reworked platforms, the Commando and the V4. To do this during Covid, during a global parts shortage, during the war in Ukraine, during climate change which is affecting the amount of parts coming out of central Europe with the low level of water in the Rhine meaning the barges can’t get down to Rotterdam – that is an astonishing achievement. To say that we could have then launched a 650 twin at the same time, with that resource, we took the view that that was unachievable.


With the strict EURO5 rules in place, liquid cooling could be on the menu for the Norton Commando...

With the strict EURO5 rules in place, liquid cooling could be on the menu for the Norton Commando…


AC:  In the case of the Commando, you took an existing platform which had several faults, and have then addressed them, while at the same time making it Euro 5 compliant – or is it Euro 4? Which means liquid cooling?


CG:  At the moment Euro 4, but we have plans to make the Commando Euro 5 compliant, for sure… We’re in discussions about that. Liquid cooling means that it’s going to lose some of the Commando character that we’ve all come to love. Nevertheless, we know that US Federal legislation is going to change, and we’re monitoring where that’s going – but if we have an aspiration to bring Norton complete with the Commando, V4 and anything else we build to the widest possible market, including North America, EU, and beyond, so then we’re going to have to comply with their legislations. 


"North America as a whole was always part of our thinking, but there are an awful lot of milestones to work through - the lead time is extensive in terms of establishing the right corporate identity." said Christian.

“North America as a whole was always part of our thinking, but there are an awful lot of milestones to work through – the lead time is extensive in terms of establishing the right corporate identity.” said Christian.


AC:  Will Norton sell in the USA, and if so, when?


CG:  Yes, we’re working on that. We’re planning to launch in the USA some time in 2024, when there will be the opportunity to purchase and ride a Norton with full warranty and after sales facilities behind it. North America as a whole was always part of our thinking, but there are an awful lot of milestones to work through – the lead time is extensive in terms of establishing the right corporate identity. The amount of work that goes into setting a business up in order to be able to offer Norton enthusiasts and riders and collectors the right sort of experience, not just ship the bikes and say you’re on your own, but actually to offer them the right kind of riding experience and customer backup, that takes some time.


There are no set dates for the brand to make its way down to Australia. We may have to wait a few more years before we get the Commando again.

There are no set dates for the brand to make its way down to Australia. We may have to wait a few more years before we get the Commando again.


AC:  How about Australia?


CG:  That’s a great market, a really good market that’s definitely part of our plans for Norton – in fact I’ve got conversations going with people down there right now – but again, when we launch, and we will launch into Australia, when we launch into Australia, we want to launch it in the right way with the right customer experience, the right backup. And I don’t have a firm date for that yet, but it will come.


Make sure you check out Alan's review of the new Commando 961 CR and SP we currently have up...

Make sure you check out Alan’s review of the new Commando 961 CR and SP we currently have up…


AC:  What different variants on the V4 platform are you bringing forward?


CG:  That’s in discussion, so I can’t tell you too much yet. But I can confirm that the V4 CR we unveiled a year ago as the Naked version of the V4SV with the same 185bhp 1200cc 72-degree V4 will definitely go ahead as a limited edition model.


Avon Cobra Chrome

AC:  How many will you build?


CG:  200, each individually numbered and costing £41,999 including 20% VAT. But we’re looking to celebrate the milestone of 125 years of Norton with that machine next year, which is why we’ve held back producing it. There are plans for an awful lot of activity around that milestone.



AC:  Will Nortons continue to be made exclusively here in Birmingham? No plans to take it to India?


CG:  Yes. You don’t spend £40 million on a state-of-the-art-factory, and then ship all the manufacturing out East!



AC:  Will Norton’s electrification development be carried out here, or in India?


CG:  Great question. So we see this as a fundamental partnership between TVS and Norton – we’re very proud of our Anglo-Indian heritage and our roots, we think it’s working really well, and we see this as a fundamental way of securing the future, not just for the brand, but for the country. We’re looking to create roles here in the UK for electrification for the future, so part of the push for electrification here is to really upskill the country.



AC:  In terms of electrification, there are three key elements in the vehicle. One is batteries, two is the motor, and three is the controller or invertor. Where are all these being developed? 


CG:  As yet that’s up in the air, but we do have funding from the UK government from the APC, the Advanced Propulsion Centre.


British brands like Triumph have already gone down the route of electrification. Check out their recent concept bike here…


AC:  How much?


CG:  £60 million. Not all for us, but we’re the leading syndicate, and that is specifically as I mentioned earlier to create and build roles around those components, so the top design and engineering of those components is happening right here in Solihull.


The TVS-appointed management team led by Norton CEO Dr. Robert Hentschel have now re-engineered the Commando 961 to enhance its appeal and make it series production-friendly.

We hope that the electric sector of Norton can still keep that old-school charm to them…


AC:  What kind of electric vehicles do you expect to develop with the Norton name?


CG:  A range, so we talk about urban mobility and urban exploration with electrification, there is no doubt when you look at millennial and Gen Z generations that they are not adopting two-wheel transportation in a way that baby boomers and before always did. The motorcycle has moved beyond the working man’s cheap method of transportation to a discretional purchase. Now in amongst that, we believe that in an urban environment – and cities are getting bigger and bigger and bigger, and more and more people are living there – that two-wheeled transportation can absolutely solve congestion issues on a sustainable environmental basis, and on a cost-effective basis, too. Clearly, there are different use cases, and the needs derived from these. So for a 29-year old account director of a creative agency living in South Tottenham who three days a week needs to get into his office in Soho seven miles or 10k’s away, you’re going to want a different machine than if you’re a married man in Guildford with a garage, and you need to get into the City of London 40 miles or 60k’s away.. They are different use cases, and we intend that the Norton brand will be able to fulfil both of them electrically.


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AC:  But that married Guildford resident will perhaps also be buying his electric Norton as a sporting leisure product, one of the issues with that is recharging stations, because if he wants to go and have a 100-mile blast on Sunday morning, he has to carry a level three fast charger somewhere. These are extremely bulky and heavy items to put on a motorcycle, so how will you resolve that? 


CG:  By continuing a process of design iteration is the first answer. The second answer is in conjunction with the government in terms of the amount of investment that’s going into fast charging stations. Thirdly, there’s the relationship between the internal combustion engine and electrification, so in that use case, he might take his Commando out, or he might take his V4 out for that. If you want a leisure ride at the weekends, but you want to go and do 200 miles or you want to go and do 100 miles, you might not be using the electric motorcycle in the first instance. 


"2024 will be a very important year for this company! So 2024 means launching into North America, and extending the Norton range into electrification." said Christian.

“2024 will be a very important year for this company! So 2024 means launching into North America, and extending the Norton range into electrification.” said Christian.


AC:  So to summarise, looking at Norton’s future in the short to medium term it’s going to be combustion models, but then when do you expect to launch your first electric vehicle?


CG:  2024 will be a very important year for this company! So 2024 means launching into North America, and extending the Norton range into electrification – yes, it’ll be a big year for us along the pathway of establishing Norton as a genuine luxury brand.


Norton will be going down the "luxury" route. Which will be interesting to see how they approach that from the brands classic image.

Norton will be going down the “luxury” route. Which will be interesting to see how they approach that from the brands classic image.


AC:  What does that mean exactly – how do you define a luxury brand?


CG:  We define luxury as a fundamental part of being human. There’s never been a time in our species when we haven’t aspired to beautiful things and things that lift our soul, whether as the people that end up owning them, the people that make them or the people that use them. For example, the most prevalent artefact in our species is a Stone Age flint axe – we’ve dug up tens of thousands of these, but we’ve never dug up an asymmetric one. Even before we could walk upright, we sharpened one side of a stone to take the hide off a woolly mammoth carcass and thought to ourselves, we’ll just do the other side – that’s who we are, it’s one of the things that separates us from primates. 

So, there are three component parts to any luxury object or luxury brand, whether it’s a Stradivarius violin, or a Rolls Royce motor car, or a Norton motorcycle or a Burberry mac. The first thing it has to achieve is it must be designed, and in the primary sense insofar as you are dealing with your eyes, it has to be visually arresting. If that’s not true, then why do perfume manufacturers spend so much time and money designing the bottle? So, it has to be visually arresting, and that’s exactly the same with Norton. Now it doesn’t mean the other senses aren’t important, of course they are, but when you see a Norton, or when you see a Rolex watch, you have to want it, you have to desire it. Then you touch it, then you feel it, then you smell it, all of those senses work together to create desire, that’s the first bit. Norton, I would argue, has almost always had that – historically we’ve made beautiful, visually appealing bikes. An example would be when you go out to the Commando and see the parallel twin motor which we cant forward seven degrees or more so it looks like the machine’s in motion when it’s standing still, thus adding to the visual drama.



The second pillar in any luxury product is excellence and reliability. I have a 1974 – my year of birth! – Rolex Oyster, the world’s first waterproof watch. We can argue whether that’s the world’s most beautiful watch Rolax have made, whatever, that’s personal preference, but nonetheless, it’s a design classic. It’s functional, it’s a design classic, you can argue whether a white bezel is best or whatever, but as a design, it’s a classic. That thing keeps time like clockwork, the obvious part. If it doesn’t work, I don’t want to see it. Version 1.0 of the iPhone, beautiful, arresting, wonderful design. What was the problem? The battery died on you – so what did they spend all the R&D money in? Guys, we’ve got to make this thing live, because otherwise it’s going out the window, I don’t care what it looks like, if it doesn’t work, it’s going out the window.

In my experience with my Norton, or with other motorcycles, we fully accept, and fully admit, and fully recognise; and TVS have been at the forefront of this, that we have a lot of work to do to convince people that actually we can make motorcycles which not only look great, but actually continue to delight. I mean, when you visit the TVS plant in Hosur in India, it’s a thing of engineering excellence, it is unbelievable how high the quality is that they’re able to deliver, and the standards that they set themselves are so high that frankly we can learn a lot from that, and that’s a really powerful example of the symbiosis of the two organisations. So we know that if you want to be a luxury brand, it’s great to look great, to build that desire, but unless the brand actuality lives up to the brand promise, you’re fighting a losing battle. So that was the issue with version 1.0 with the V4SV, and with the Commando, which we have now addressed under TVS ownership. So now you get off that bike and say, great, that’s the Commando as it always should have been – that’s what we’re going for. 

Norton Commando 961 CR.

Because the third pillar that any luxury brand must aspire to is that it has to keep drawing you in, to keep you coming back for more, whether it’s a hotel stay or a motorcycle. When you walk away from your Commando, I want you to look back at it fondly because you enjoyed the ride you’ve just had, so when you take the key into your house, I want it to drive joy in your life. We’re making joy machines, that’s what we do…..


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