DETROIT — As Ford Motor Co. heads into the final stage of selling Jaguar and Land Rover, some dealers are pulling for the Jac Nasser-led bid from One Equity Partners.
Some Jaguar dealers aren't comfortable with an Indian company taking over the luxury brand, says Ken Gorin, chairman of the Jaguar national dealer council. In addition to Nasser's private equity group, two Indian manufacturers — Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra — are said to be finalists in the luxury brand sell-off.
Indian ownership could present an image problem for luxury buyers, says Gorin, co-owner of the Collection, a multibrand luxury dealership in Coral Gables, Fla.
"I don't know that the United States consumer is ready to deal with a premium brand like Jaguar being owned by an Indian company," Gorin told Automotive News. "It has nothing to do with reality. I'm sure there's a reality that exists that is terrific. But when we think about India, we think about a Third World country and people going to work on their bicycles."
Ford insiders acknowledge that they've heard some concerns — but no major protests — from U.S. dealers regarding the Indian bids.
Ford CEO Alan Mulally said last week that the automaker is on track to announce a sale by year end or early 2008. The bidders submitted revised offers Wednesday, Dec. 5, according to British news reports.
Mulally decided to shed the British brands to focus on a turnaround of the core Ford business and finally stem the losses from Jaguar. According to company insiders and Automotive News estimates, Jaguar has lost in the neighborhood of $1 billion a year since the X-Type entry-luxury sedan was launched in 2001.
Martin Bennett is another Jaguar dealer who would prefer One Equity. But he's not concerned that Indian ownership would bother consumers, only that the Indian bidders may be too large to pay proper attention to the brand.
"It would be refreshing to be with an entity who were very, very sharply focused on the brand and what it stood for and how to market it," says Bennett, owner of Thoroughbred Motorcars in Nashville. "That's to say nothing against Tata or Mahindra. But they are both very large industrial conglomerates, and it would be a shame to be tucked away in a corner."
Next spring, Jaguar's solvency will be tested by the launch of the XF sedan, which replaces the languishing S-Type. Insiders say the XF will either rescue or doom Jaguar.
Mark Rechtin contributed to this report