Jaguar may be up for sale after its owner, Ford Motor Company, decided to put the future of the luxury car maker under review.
The second-biggest US car maker is understood to have hired the heavyweight Wall Street investment banker Kenneth Leet to advise on the possible disposal of both Jaguar and Ford's profitable car finance division Ford Credit.
Ford paid £1.6bn for Jaguar in 1989 but has since made heavy losses on the investment. Last year it was forced to pump a further £1.2bn into the company to keep it afloat.
A sale of the Jaguar brand would be a humiliating admission of defeat for Ford and would leave a question mark over the future of the other brands in its Premier Automotive Group (PAG), which include Land-Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo.
Ford refused to comment on Mr Leet's appointment but US sources said the former Goldman Sachs and Bank of America mergers and acquisitions expert had been hired by the company to advise on possible alliances and asset sales.
After Ford shocked the markets two weeks ago by disclosing that PAG plunged to a loss of $162m in the second quarter of the year, its chief executive Bill Ford said that "nothing is off the table" as far as the future of Jaguar was concerned.
Analysts said that potential buyers of Jaguar included the two French car makers Peugeot and Renault, neither of which have luxury or sports cars in the model line-up. Korean manufacturers and even the Russian oligarch Nikolai Smolensky, who owns the Blackpool-based sports car company TVR, were also mentioned as possible bidders.
But motor industry experts said that Ford might have to package Jaguar with its four-wheel drive marque Land-Rover to attract a big, established volume car maker. Jaguar lost £430m in 2004 - the last year for which separate accounts are available. The heavy losses prompted Ford to close its Browns Lane plant in Coventry with the loss of 1,150 jobs and concentrate production on two sites - Castle Bromwich in Birmingham and Halewood on Merseyside.
The company made 90,000 cars last year and is expected to produce about 85,000 this year - a far cry from the production level of 200,000 that had been envisaged when Ford decided to ramp up sales with the launch of a new "baby Jag", the X-type. The car, which incorporates many components used in the Ford range, has not sold in expected numbers and is unlikely to be replaced when it reaches the end of its life.
Jaguar is, however, working on a replacement for the S-Type, which is due to appear next year and is said to be radically different from the model currently on the road. Ford is in the middle of a massive restructuring programme involving the closure of 14 production plants and 30,000 job reductions aimed at turning its core US automotive division back into profit. Last month Ford was outsold in the US market for the first time by the Japanese car maker Toyota.
The losses within PAG were blamed on the weak dollar exchange rate and higher warranty costs. Jaguar sells half its output in the US. The losses sent the group into an unexpected overall loss for the quarter of $123m despite strong profits from Ford Credit.
The Jaguar stable
Jaguar X-Type (2001)
This was the car that was supposed to propel Jaguar into the BMW league of (relatively) high volumes. The X-type did sell in unprecedented numbers in Jaguar terms, but it never came close to challenging the dominance of the BMW 3-series or Mercedes C-Class. The X-type was criticised for its styling, ironically pushed by parent Ford, who insisted that it look like a Jaguar. Purists didn't appreciate its Mondeo underpinnings and, in some versions, front-wheel drive, a departure from Jaguar tradition.
Jaguar S-Type (1998)
For years Jaguar fans had begged the company to make a car that echoed the "Inspector Morse" Jaguar Mk II and S-type of the 1960s. When Jaguar obliged they were criticised for producing something that was too "retro". Under the bodywork lie some impressive engines. Up against the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes E-Class and in-house competition from Ford subsidiary Volvo. Its replacement, due next year, is said by insiders to be modern and "radically different".
Jaguar XJ (2002)
The seventh iteration of the XJ line that goes back to the XJ6 saloon of 1968, the last that Jaguar founder Sir William Lyons had a major role in designing. The traditional lines hide an ultra-modern aluminium bodywork and up-to-date engine designs. This model also has an improved reputation for reliability and quality, with resale values and customer satisfaction up. Production recently moved to Castle Bromwich from Brown's Lane, Coventry, when that factory closed. Will be replaced by 2009.
Jaguar XK (2006)
Jaguar have never been able to top their E-Type of 1961, which can fairly be described as "iconic". Still, as a coupe or convertible, this V8-engined offering looks the part. It was styled by Ian Callum, of Aston Martin DB9 fame (Aston Martin is another Ford brand). XK volumes of 20,000 or so per annum mean that it isn't a make-or-break car, but it's one that Jaguar can't afford to get wrong. Faster XK/R version launched last month.
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