Tata Deal Won’t End Ford’s Ties To Luxury Brands

New Delhi – Tata Motors is set to take over Ford Motor Co’s British luxury brands, Jaguar and Land Rover, in early March, following successful conclusion of talks with the automaker’s labor union in UK, Unite.

According to Dave Osborne, national secretary for the union, the “members’ long-term future is best served by Tata.” The Unite union represents about 12,000 workers at Land Rover and Jaguar factories.

Tata Motors, which had outbid Mahindra & Mahindra and One Equity with a $2 billion-plus offer, has assured the union officials that it will continue to source engines and other components manufactured at Ford’s British manufacturing facilities which are in south Wales and Dagenham in London and that there will be no layoffs.

“We do believe that Tata Motors, in the event of a sale…offers the best alternative for our people in the UK,” Osborne said. “It’s a cash-rich company. It’s got experience in manufacturing in the automotive industry. It’s got a substantial presence in other industries in the U.K.”

“They (Tata) totally ruled out offloading Jaguar or building Land Rovers in India,” Osborne said, adding that Tata has agreed to keep employment in the UK around the current 15,300.

According to Osborne, Tata has also agreed to stick with the Jaguar-Land Rover business plan through 2011. After that, the Indian automaker has expressed interest in growing the company and even adding workers in the UK, he said.

“The manufacturing footprint will remain unaltered,” he said. “The engineering and design studios will remain. There’s no plans outside of the business plan to source any more components from low-cost economies.”

Osborne said Tata is confident in the British automakers, despite challenges of meeting new carbon dioxide emissions standards in Europe. There is growth potential in emerging markets, he said.

“There seems to be a relative air of confidence from the company rather than talk about reductions in employment levels post-2012,” he said.

According to Roger Maddison, national officer of Unite, “the sooner everything goes through, the better,” as “the workforces are beginning to get anxious.”

Tata has agreed to meet the guarantees sought by the union workers, Maddison said.

The Indian automaker is also expected to take over the pension liabilities, he added.

“Everything seems fine as far as we are concerned; it’s just the lawyers working on it now,” Maddison said.

Meanwhile, sources close to the deal said Ford’s discussions with Tata was constructive and progressing forward and that a conclusive agreement is expected as soon as early March.

The announcement of the sale may come on the sidelines of the Geneva Motor Show which will commence on March 4, the sources said.

Ford, which competes with General Motors Corp. and Toyota Motor Corp., the world’s two largest automakers by sales volume, bought Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 and Land Rover for $2.7 billion in 2000, joining them with Aston Martin and Volvo to form its Premier Automotive Group.

However, the No.2 US automaker, Ford, which has struggled with declining US sales and falling market share for the past few years, has been exploring the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover since last June.

Last year Ford completed the sale of its controlling stake in Aston Martin for $931 million in cash and preferred stock.

Once Jaguar and Land Rover are sold, Ford’s only European luxury brand will be Sweden-based Volvo. Ford has said it wants to return that unit to profit.

In a separate development, Tata Motors has mandated several local and foreign banks to raise nearly $2.5 billion – mostly from overseas.

While most of the money raised will be used to fund the purchase of Jaguar and Land Rover from Ford, the remaining funds may be used to finance capital expenditure of Jaguar and Land Rover following the acquisition, and also on the production of Nano, the world’s cheapest car, which Tata Motors plans to commercially launch in October.

Tata Motors, India’s third largest maker of passenger vehicles and largest maker of commercial vehicles, is a part of India’s most respected business conglomerate, the Tata Group, which has business interests that include steel, automotive, technology, consumer products, energy, hospitality and beverages.

The Tata Group reported revenues in 2006-07 of $28.8 billion, about 3.2 percent of the country’s GDP, and a market capitalization of $66 billion. The group has 27 publicly listed enterprises and operates in more than 80 countries across six continents, employing over 300,000 people.

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