Sad news has arrived concerning Leicester based British motorcycle brand Norton.
After failing to be able to pay its £300,000 tax bill, the iconic motorbike manufacturer has gone into administration. This is not the first time in recent years that Norton has struggled. Following issues ten years ago, Stuart Garner became Norton CEO and revived the company in 2008 – only last year Garner had stated that the brand was doing well.
Garner is said to be working with HMRC to resolve the issues, which have, he says, partly arisen over unpaid research and development tax relief owed to the company. Originally the sum owed was much higher at around £600,000 but half of that has been paid. It just seems that time is now rapidly running out for Garner and Norton.
HM Revenue & Customs and Norton were in the Insolvency and Companies high court in London recently fighting liquidation. HMRC’s barrister had requested a stay of execution due to the willingness of Norton to pay the amount owed and the substantial amount already paid towards the debt. Ironically, £135,000 in R&D tax credits is still awaiting approval from HMRC. Insolvency Judge Sebastian Prentis adjourned the hearing until February 12 2020.
Garner said afterwards that Norton has pumped almost £13million in R&D over the past 4 years and expressed his frustration at the tax credit delay, while also saying he was appreciative of the efforts that are going in to helping Norton find the outstanding balance that they owe. As a result of this vigorous research and development programme, Norton has released 5 new models over the past year, with variations on modern classics, the Commando and the Dominator.
While this is a shock to those of us that hold a special place in our hearts for Norton, there does appear that there are strong hopes that the classic motorcycle brand will survive what will hopefully turn out to be blip on the Norton timeline. Only last year Garner launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to finance further R&D and an outstanding order book to the tune of £1million. This was later ceased due to what Garner described as an intervention from a ‘big investor’.
Norton has a proud history that began in 1898 in Birmingham, with the first motorcycles being manufactured from 1902. The 1950s saw such well-known names as the Norton Atlas and the Norton Dominator arrive on the scene. But it was the ground breaking classic, the Commando that changed things when it arrived in 1968. Using a series of high-density rubber mounts to isolate the rider from the engine and gearbox, the rider could experience a much smoother ride. Like many two-wheeler manufacturers, Norton has always understood that its fanbase want to remain in touch with those classic designs of the past, and Norton has certainly never disappointed on that front.
While Triumph will always have Steve McQueen jumping fences in The Great Escape, Norton can boast its own set of high profile moments and riders too. Bond movie Spectre featured a Norton Dominator, while the Che Guevara movie The Motorcycle Diaries featured a battered Norton 500 christened La Poderosa (‘The Mighty One’). And of course actor Keanu Reeves regularly gives Norton free advertising by being seen out and about on his 1973 Commando 950 Mk II Roadster.
A recently published set of accounts from accountants HSKS Greenhalgh stated that Norton’s survival is ‘…dependent on the future financial support of its bankers and its creditors’. If the Norton company was to disappear, 100 jobs at the Castle Donington factory would potentially be lost.
My own love of Norton came about through learning of my uncle riding one during the Second World War, and I remember choosing motorbike mags over comics as a small boy on holiday to stare at these magnificent classic machines with wide eyes. While this is indeed sad news and a shock, I’m sure we all hope that Norton, such a long-standing motorbike manufacturer, will find a way out and survive.
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