Norton Motorcycles plotting 650cc twin-cylinder Royal Enfield rivals?

by Amit Panday 14 Nov 2017

In July 2017, Norton entered into a 20-year design-and-licence pact with Zongshen Manufacturing of China for the new, 650cc twin-cylinder engine developed by Norton with assistance from Ricardo of the

In what can be an interesting potential clash between two iconic brands in India’s surging midsize motorcycle market, Norton Motorcycles will rival Royal Enfield in the twin-cylinder, 650cc category in the foreseeable future.

At the moment Norton's volumes are rather low by global scale and all bikes are hand-built at its manufacturing facility in the UK. However, this will change with the incoming 650cc motorcycles. According to the company, it has plans to industrialise the production of its midsize models, given that it anticipates a sharp rise in its volumes in the near future. 

Norton Motorcycles’ CEO and owner Stuart Garner has told Autocar Professional that a midsize twin-cylinder, 650cc engine is in the works and will power affordable motorcycles aimed at emerging markets such as India and other Asian markets.

The company will, tomorrow, sign a 50:50 joint venture with India’s Kinetic Engineering wherein both parties plan to jointly manufacture and localise Norton motorcycles for retail in India and other Asian markets. It is expected that the first Nortons to be made in India would be the Commando range, which is powered by the parallel-twin, 961cc engine.

Speaking to this publication last week in Milan on the sidelines of the EICMA Motorcycle Show, Garner said, “The next engine to come from Norton is the 650cc, twin-cylinder for India and the Asian territories, be it Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand or Taiwan. We see the start of this relationship (with India’s Kinetic Group) with the 961 but we think the volumes and a lot of commercial sense will come from the 650s (650cc models). The 650cc, twin-cylinder bike is still under development. It will commercialise the whole venture. It’s going to be a very good engine, very compact and I think it will be a very suitable bike for the partnership.”

On the other hand, Royal Enfield has recently unveiled its all-new twin-cylinder, 650cc motorcycles – the Interceptor 650 roadster and the Continental GT 650 café racer – at the EICMA 2017. The company plans to bring these models to the market, first in Europe, in April 2018, followed by launch in other regions including India later in the year.

Norton Motorcycles’ plan is to be able to begin manufacturing and retail operations in India by end-2018. At the same time, it plans to launch its 650cc bikes in the UK market.

This means there will be a fresh contender for the growing midsize motorcycle market. The theme of the rising trend of midsize motorcycles will be one of the key discussion points at Autocar Professional's 2nd Two-Wheeler Industry Conclave, scheduled to be held on January 18, 2018 in New Delhi.   

Price war?
Norton’s Garner has already clarified that it would be difficult for his company to be able to match the price points of Royal Enfield. This can be clearly attributed to the manufacturing and retail volumes of both century-old motorcycle brands. While Norton’s existing annual sales stand close to 1,000 units, Royal Enfield’s sales are fast moving towards the million-unit mark.

However, it is understood that Norton’s presence in the same category will define the premium quality benchmark(s) for its rival in India and in other global markets.

In the context of price-wise market positioning, Garner estimates that the planned 650cc Norton models for India will be positioned somewhere between Ducati and MV Agusta motorcycles, which are imported via semi-knocked-down (SKD) kits to India by Kinetic Engineering.

On the contrary, Siddhartha Lal, CEO and MD, Eicher Motors, has clearly emphasised that Royal Enfield plans accessible price points for its incoming 650cc models. “Royal Enfield aims to lead and expand the mid-weight (250-750cc) motorcycle segment globally. The Royal Enfield Interceptor INT 650 and Continental GT 650 will help grow this segment. While for our large customer base in India, the new 650 twins will be a compelling upgrade, we believe it will attract customers from other developing markets in South East Asia and Latin America to graduate to the middleweight segment,” added Lal.

Ricardo helps develop Norton’s new 650cc twin-cylinder engine
In July 2017, Norton had announced a design and licence agreement with Zongshen manufacturing of Chongqing in China (pictured below). Under this, the British marque has entered into a 20-year design and licence agreement for the all-new, 650cc twin-cylinder engine which was developed by Norton with assistance from Ricardo of the UK. 


“The engine and its IP developed by Norton is specific and exclusive to Zongshen and it is expected the engine will be produced under the ‘Zongshen’ or ‘Cyclone’ brands. The value of the deal is to remain private, but the initial consideration paid to Norton is in the millions of dollars with an ongoing royalty on each engine produced. Last year, Zongshen produced around 4 million engines,” says an official communication from the company.

This arrangement highlights Norton’s prowess in the design and development of high-performance motorcycle engines.

Now to the marketplace. With Royal Enfield having announced plans to dominate the global midsize motorcycle market, it would be interesting to see how the two British-born motorcycle brands take on each other in the domestic and Asian markets in the near future.