BT's white van plan tempts Ford

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The Independent Online

Ford Motor Company has expressed an interest in buying a stake in BT's £800m commercial vehicle division. The world's second-largest car manufacturer is understood to have requested sale details of BT Fleet Partners, being prepared by the telecoms company's financial adviser SocGen.

Fleet Partners owns 58,000 cars, vans and trucks and is Britain's largest commercial vehicle operator. BT has decided that the business is non-core and wants to spin off the division as part of its drive to reduce borrowings.

BT has yet to decide whether it will sell a majority or minority stake, but a deal with Ford would make the motor company dominant in the UK commercial fleet sector. The motor manufacturer owns Ford Leasing, which specialises in the commercial sector, and the US giant also controls Hertz, the world's largest car rental firm.

Already, BT is a major customer of Ford as Fleet Partners operates 35,000 Transit vans. BT is estimated to spend around £200m a year on new vehicles, mostly with Ford.

On top of acquiring the vehicles and the leasing contracts, Ford would get its hands on 88 vehicle workshops owned by BT. Ford and BT refused to comment.

Other motor manufacturers are likely to be interested in Fleet Partners. Analysts cited General Motors and Honda as possible bidders. BT is also likely to receive interest from venture capitalists, banks and leasing specialists for Fleet Partners. Britain's Lex Vehicle Leasing and France's PPH Arval are seen as contenders.

Separately, Fleet Partners is biding for a £300m-a-year contract to manage 40,000 vehicles owned by Consignia.

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