Ford Continues 'Focused' Talks With Tata

Indian Automaker 1 of 3 Bidders for Land Rover, Jaguar

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DETROIT ( -- Ford Motor Co. has gotten closer to a sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover brands.
Ford has owned Jaguar since 1989.
Ford has owned Jaguar since 1989.

The automaker today in a statement said it is "committed to focused negotiations" with Tata Motors, an Indian conglomerate and one of three reported bidders for the two storied British brands.

"There is still a considerable amount of work to do, and while no final decision has been made, we will proceed with further substantive discussions with Tata Motors over the forthcoming weeks with a view to securing an agreement that is in the best interests of all parties concerned," Lewis Booth, exec VP-Ford of Europe, said.

Bids for brands
Published reports estimated the three suitors bid between $1.5 billion and $2.2 billion, but the final price could change when discussions start.

If Tata completes the deal, it would put the automaker on a global stage, as it currently makes small, affordable cars mostly for its home market.

Charlie Hughes, president-founder of consultant BrandRules and former longtime CEO of Land Rover North America, called Tata a very well-run, large corporation. "Their big concern needs to be how to keep these brands as prestigious, since they are not well known by luxury buyers anywhere in the world."

Ford, which is trying to rebuild its core auto business, sold a majority chunk of Aston Martin for just less than $1 billion last March.

Ford acquired Land Rover from Germany's BMW in 2000 for $2.7 billion and has enjoyed some success in the U.S., especially with its smaller premium SUVs. Land Rover said it sold 44,663 SUVs in the U.S. through November, 3,900 more than the same period a year ago. Land Rover spent $68 million in measured media in the first nine months of 2007, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Jaguar's sales slide
Ford has owned Jaguar since 1989, but got more involved in its operations this decade. In the U.S., Jaguar sales slid by nearly 5,000 units to 14,161 in the first 11 months of 2007 vs. the comparable period last year. Jaguar spent $20 million in measured U.S. media in the first nine months of 2007, according to TNS.

The two British brands are in Ford's Premier Automotive Group, or PAG. PAG also includes Volvo, which Ford acquired in 1999. Ford CEO Alan Mulally said in the fall the automaker didn't plan to sell Volvo, but he refused to rule out a sale in the future, according to Ad Age sibling Automotive News.
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