LONDON - Vickers PLC is being as sly about the future of its Cosworth subsidiary as it has been with the sale of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Ltd.
Vickers has been talking to Ford Motor Co. about selling Cosworth to Ford. After it decided to sell Rolls-Royce to Volkswagen AG instead of BMW AG, Vickers announced it will review its plans for Cosworth.
VW said it wants to source engines for Rolls-Royce from the United Kingdom, and Cosworth supplies Rolls from that country.
'Vickers and Volkswagen intend to review how the relationship between Rolls-Royce Motor Cars and Cosworth should best be continued in the future,' Vickers said in a statement.
That could mean anything.
'We have been talking to Ford about Cosworth for some time,' said Vickers spokeswoman Brig Daniels. 'We have been looking at the options we might employ to develop underutilized capacity at Cosworth, especially in the castings division where the full potential has not been unlocked.
'One of these options - and it is only one - has been under discussion with Ford, as to how they might help us. But we are still at a reasonably early stage, and nothing has been decided.'
Ford has had a long association with Cosworth. But Cosworth is less dependent on Ford than in the past, when racing and performance road car editions brought the Cosworth name to a wide public.
'Cosworth has been a key supplier to Ford for more than 30 years,' said Ford spokesman Tom Malcolm. 'We chat to them all the time.' But he described as speculation reports that Ford was negotiating to buy all or part of Cosworth.
Mike Phillips, Cosworth Engineering's commercial manager, said loss of independence under new ownership would be a severe blow. The firm has changed owners several times since it started life as a performance engine consultancy in the mid-1960s. But Phillips said no parent has ever limited its ability to offer confidential development work to individual vehicle manufacturers. Vickers acquired Cosworth from Carlton Communications in 1990.
Cosworth, which is based in Northamp-ton, England, has three divisions - racing, engineering consultancy and manufacturing of special castings. Cosworth Engineering has six European customers, two based in the United States and three in Asia. The biggest current project is worth $50 million and has 50 staff members working on it, Phillips said.
Last year Cosworth doubled its sales to about $180 million. In the past 18 months, 80 engineers have joined the United Kingdom complex, bringing the staff total to close to 200. Cosworth employs about the same number in Novi, Mich.
To increase its expertise in onboard diagnostics and systems calibration, and to gain access to the U.S. market, it bought the Novi operation from Intelligent Controls in 1995.