Jaguar: Finally Ready to Roar?

New owner Tata's deep pockets could fund wider distribution and hefty marketing for Jaguar and the already hot Range Rover and Land Rover

Ford Motor (F) sealed a deal Mar. 26 to sell its British Jaguar and Land Rover brands to Indian carmaker Tata Motors (TTM) for about $2.3 billion. That is less than half what Ford paid for the two brands—Jaguar in 1989 and Land Rover in 2000—and it reflects their dysfunctional operations, which Tata will have to sort out.

For Ford, the sale is a curious liberation from businesses it could never quite figure out and that cost it, by some estimates, in excess of $10 billion in losses over the years. For some Brits the deal marks a surprising twist in a long road for two storied corporate names. Could Winston Churchill, or even the current Queen of England, have imagined a half-century ago that a pair of Britain's proudest industrial icons would one day be owned by an Indian company?

Ford acquired Jaguar and Land Rover as part of a strategy aimed at building out its luxury car offerings beyond the venerable Lincoln brand, especially in overseas markets where Lincoln has little presence. But Ford was never able to rationalize the high costs of building Jags and Land Rovers in Britain. And labor unions kept severe pressure on Ford not to move manufacturing out of Britain. When Ford Chief Executive Oficer Alan Mulally arrived in September, 2006, and saw the record losses, dismantling the Premier Auto Group rocketed to the top of his to-do list. "These are expensive hobbies Ford can't afford anymore," he said last year.

A Field of Suitors

After Ford pays British workers around $600 million toward pension liabilities, it will net around $1.7 billion, according to company officials. It's not much, but every dime helps these days as the U.S. economy plunges deeper into recession. Ford posted a $2.8 billion loss in the fourth quarter, though that was thinner than its $5.6 billion loss in the year-ago quarter. For the full year, Ford shed $2.7 billion, compared with a loss of $12.6 billion in 2006. Ford hopes to turn profitable by 2009, but economic conditions are making that tougher to accomplish (, 3/18/08).

Indeed, the latest estimate for March sales from Jesse Toprak, chief industry analyst for the auto information site, predicts that consumers will have bought 12% fewer vehicles this month than a year earlier. J.D. Power & Associates reported that for the first half of March, information from dealers showed nearly a 22% decline from the same period last year.

Tata bested a field of suitors that included rival Indian carmaker Mahindra & Mahindra, a private equity group including former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser, and a British investment group. At one time, Renault-Nissan (RENA.PA) was in the mix as well, though it never entered the official bidding.

Wide-Ranging Conglomerate

Tata is an interesting owner for the British luxury brands. It is India's largest industrial conglomerate (, 2/14/08), with a broad portfolio of more than 90 companies in seven business sectors: chemicals, communications and information technology, consumer products, energy, engineering, materials, and services. One of its largest operations is steelmaking. In the automotive sphere, Tata makes tractor trailers, full-size SUVs, and the world's cheapest car, the $3,000-plus Nano (, 1/10/08).

Tata is no stranger to consumer marketing, catering to those with fat wallets as well as those who pinch pennies. Tata Tea is one of the largest tea producers in the world and owns the venerable (and also formerly British) Tetley brand. In the lodging industry, Tata's Taj Hotels command some of the highest rates in the world—one night in a luxury suite at the Taj Mahal Palace in Mumbai can cost $2,795. It is also building budget hotels around India with rates as low as $37.95 a night. The company also owns a chain of high-end jewelry stores, Tanishq. It operates an exclusive charter-airplane business and owns Tata Sky, which beams business news and hit movies into a million Indian households.

Most analysts and auto industry observers view the Jaguar and Land Rover purchase as good for the brands. But they wonder if Tata has the marketing experience to handle the challenges of the high-end car business. "There will be issues around an Indian company owning these luxury brands because people outside India do not associate India with vehicles in this price range," says Kishor Patil, CEO of KPIT Cummins, an India-based information technology and consulting firm that works with auto companies.

Keeping Production in Britain

Indeed, U.S. analysts say the big question for Tata in the coming months will be whether it will be a good guardian of the brands while seeking opportunities to cut costs. "If they run the brands as a British company and invest properly in new product, it will be successful because they are still attractive brands," says Charles Hughes, who launched Land Rover North America in the U.S. in the 1980s and is now a principal at marketing consultant Brand Rules.

That seems to be the game plan being written by Tata Chairman Ratan Tata (, 8/2/07), a car enthusiast who sits on the board of Italian automaker Fiat (FIA.MI) and has said he also wants to own part of Ferrari. "Our plan is to retain the image, the touch, and the feel of Jaguar and Land Rover," Tata said at the Geneva Auto Show last month. "We will not tinker with the brands in any way… they are special global brands and whoever acquires them has a responsibility to nurture them and enable them to prosper."

Chairman Tata says his company will not transfer Jaguar and Land Rover production or component sourcing from Britain to low-cost countries, as had been feared by British unions. "We are conscious that the brands belong to Britain. These brands will continue to belong to Britain," said Tata, who added that he plans to keep existing management in place.

Still, high manufacturing costs have long been a problem for both Jaguar and Land Rover. When Ford acquired Jaguar in 1989, it inherited a bloated workforce and a factory that dated back to World War II. In 2000, Land Rover came aboard with similar problems. The previous owner, BMW (BMWG.DE), had not been able to make much headway. Ford went into a ditch with Jaguar in 2000 when it developed the X-Type sedan, priced at under $30,000, and began building them at a former Ford plant in Halewood, England, that had capacity for 200,000 cars a year. The company targeted 200,000 overall global sales for Jaguar. But the car was poorly received in Europe and the U.S., and the factory lost money hand over fist. Today, Ford builds both Jaguars and Land Rovers at Halewood and also builds Land Rovers at a factory in Solihull, England.

Sorry to See It Go

Ford has been making progress in lowering costs, cutting headcount, and improving quality. Ford's Premier Auto Group, which includes the two British brands and Volvo, earned $504 million in pre-tax profit last year. Ford doesn't have to break out profitability of each brand, but claims that Land Rover gains made up for continued losses at Jaguar to allow the two brands to finish in the black. One way to boost profits will be to expand distribution. "Tata has an opportunity to take the existing products and expand distribution into developing markets in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, China, and Southeast Asia," says a Ford executive who formerly worked on the business. "Ford just couldn't invest in that kind of distribution expansion with so many other fires to put out."

Tata's commitment to fixing the brands, its financial health, and its deep pockets, in fact, encourage even some Londoners. "Tata might in fact improve the prestige of these brands by spending more on marketing than Ford did. They might have the money to invest in research and development too so that these ranges are more high design/high performance," says Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of International Marketing Partners, a London consulting firm.

Tata inherits a decent, if thin, product line from Ford. Jaguar is about to launch the XF sedan, which replaces Jaguar's S-Type sedan. It has gotten good reviews in the automotive media and from dealers. The ill-fated X-Type is being phased out in the U.S. Jaguar also markets the XJ sedan, but the current design has not been well received. However, the XK sports coupe has drawn raves from many enthusiast magazines. In the U.S. last year, Jaguar fell to nearly an all-time low of 15,683 sales.

Land Rover is more prosperous, and the feeling among analysts and would-be buyers is that Land Rover/Range Rover is the jewel in the purchase for Tata. Besides the Range Rover models, the company sells the Land Rover LR3 and LR2. Sales in the U.S. last year were a record high of 49,550.

In recent years, Ford has combined parts and even powertrains of Jaguars and Land Rovers. It has agreed to continue supplying key parts and components to Tata. "A lot of the heavy lifting has already been done to fix these brands and get them profitable," says a Ford executive not authorized to speak about the deal. "If things were better for Ford in North America, we would have kept at it."

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