January 3, 2008 / 11:08 AM / 12 years ago

Tata front-runner to buy Jaguar and Land Rover

LONDON (Reuters) - Ford said on Thursday India’s Tata Motors was the front-runner to buy its European brands Jaguar and Land Rover.

Ford is set to announce on Thursday that India's Tata Motors is the front-runner to buy its European brands -- Jaguar and Land Rover -- a source familiar with the matter said. REUTERS

“Ford is committed to focused negotiations at a more detailed level with Tata Motors concerning the potential sale of the combined Jaguar/Land Rover business,” said Lewis Booth, Ford executive vice president with responsibility for Europe.

“There is still considerable 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.”

Tata Motors, India’s top vehicle maker, said it was pleased with the progress in talks with Ford.

“We have had positive discussions so far with Ford concerning the possible purchase of Jaguar/Land Rover and we are now entering a period of more focused and detailed negotiations,” a spokesman said in a statement.

“We are pleased by the progress in the discussions to date and very positive about the prospects of this business going forward,” the statement said, adding the discussions were complex.

“We hope both parties can reach an agreement in the forthcoming weeks, though these are complex discussions and there is still much work that needs to be done before that position is reached,” it said. A source familiar with the matter told Reuters earlier on Thursday that Ford was set to name Tata Motors as the front-runner to buy Jaguar and Land Rover.

Tata, along with Mahindra & Mahindra and U.S.-based private equity firm One Equity Partners, had emerged in November as the last bidders left in the race for the two luxury brands.

An acquisition by Tata would represent the latest instance of an Indian company buying a high profile European industrial target as companies on the subcontinent flex their financial muscle to expand abroad and enter new markets.

Tata Steel for example last year bought Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus for 6.2 billion pounds.

Tata has long been viewed as a frontrunner to buy Jaguar and Land Rover.

The Indian company is regarded by Ford as a long-term owner that will invest in the units and Ford’s UK labour unions backed it over its rivals in November on the grounds the workforce’s best interests would be served by a partner with an established presence and background in manufacturing.

The three final bidders have spent recent months locked in talks with Ford, the unions and the British government, which is keen to safeguard the manufacturing jobs Jaguar and Land Rover sustain in the UK, sources familiar with the matter have said.

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