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Top Brands in Vehicle Satisfaction for 2008

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Each year AutoPacific identifies the Brand and individual vehicles that top all others in vehicle satisfaction: The Vehicle Satisfaction Awards. AutoPacific’s Vehicle Satisfaction Award (VSA) is an industry benchmark for objectively measuring how satisfied an owner is with their new passenger car or light truck. Owner satisfaction is measured across 46 specific areas related to a vehicle’s operation, comfort, safety and the overall purchase/lease experience. The 2008 ratings reflect input from 33,500 buyers and lessees of new vehicles acquired September through December 2007.

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2008 Vehicle Satisfaction Award top brand honors went to Cadillac, while other luxury brands such as Lexus, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche also had strong showings. But what does it mean to have a top brand? Though calculations single out one brand as having the highest overall score, each individual attribute also has its own top scorer. Sometimes the detail underneath it all can have just as much, if not more, meaning than the final outcome.


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It's Official: Jaguar Land Rover Has Been Sold

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Below the jump, you can read Tata‘s official statement on buying Jaguar and Land Rover, now Jaguar Land Rover, from Ford today. However odd it may seem for these illustrious British marques to be owned by an Indian conglomerate, Tata may well end up being an excellent caretaker.

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At least initially, it seems that Tata Motors is looking to let the company continue with the product plans in place before the sale. Tata has ensured supply of needed engines and stampings through “long-term” agreements with Ford Motor Company and appointed David Smith the new Jaguar Land Rover CEO. Mr. Smith, who had been Jaguar Land Rover’s CFO, took on the role of acting CEO after Geoff Polites death in April. The appointment of a long-time Land Rover principal, holding twenty-five years with the SUV maker, indicates further support of the existing management staff.
As Tata gets more deeply involved, the business situation is bound to change. But the Indian company has patience, and seems to be ready to learn about the international business before making significant changes.


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Jaguar/Land Rover Sale – Rumors Heat Up That Tata Will be Buyer

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The rumors are heating up that the buyer of Jaguar and Land Rover is close to being finalized. The front runner appears to be the huge Indian conglomerate Tata and its automotive arm Tata Motors. Others involved in the due diligence process thought to be less advantageous to Jaguar Land Rover for various reasons. The two private equity firms – Apollo and One Equity Partners (led by former Ford CEO Jacques Nasser) – are thought to be a bit too aggressive to have the best interests of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands and their workers at heart. Profit, profit, profit is the name of the game among the private equity sharks. A second car company that is interested in JLR is Mahindra & Mahindra another Indian manufacturer specializing in SUVs and 4×4 vehicles. M&M may be a good fit with Land Rover, but Jaguar is well out of their experience zone.
So, Tata may be the winner when the dust settles adding JLR to its recent acquisitions of Tetley Tea and Corus Steel.
A November 23 Economist article is below the fold with more details.


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2009 Jaguar XF: Replacing the S-Type

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Jag’s New XF Revives a Commitment to Style and Grace
Jaguar previewed the replacement for their aging S-Type with the C-XF concept at the January 2007 Detroit auto show (click for our story). When the production XF photos were first released in August, contributor George Peterson was quick to praise the new look (click here). After that, the XF had a formal introduction at the 2007 Frankfurt motor show, and we had a chance to get a little closer and look at what Jag is really offering as an S-Type replacement. Depending on market, the order books for the XF opened this month, though the first deliveries won’t be until March 2008. And no launch is complete without a dedicated website, check out www.jaguarxf.com for Jag’s take.

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Jaguar needs the XF to re-establish the brand’s style and luxury credentials in the middle of the lineup. The new XK and XJ haven’t lost that touch, though the V8 engines that give the smaller XF a competitive powertrain in its class leave the larger, more expensive entries slightly behind their competition. And, as Peterson pointed out in his design review, the XJ and XK look too much like recent generations. The out-going S-Type did not age gracefully and, while its style hearkened back to Jaguars of old, the S-Type looked old too quickly in its relatively long lifespan. Further, the lower priced Jaguar X-Type has not done Jaguar any image favors. The all-new XF needs to rekindle the passion of Jaguar and at first blush looks equal to its task.
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With carryover engines, development of the XF focused on styling, creature comforts, and incorporates many driving aids and electronic helpers from the XK. The XF also debuts features like the JaguarSense proximity sensor and JaguarDrive Select gear selector. The XF will be the entrylevel U.S. Jag about the end of the decade, and it has the luxury feature updates it needs, including improved quality of interior materials. The debate will continue on styling, but powertrain and features boxes are all checked, and suspension elements and tricks suggest the driving dynamics will be strong as well.
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2007 Frankfurt Motor Show: The Color this Fall Was Green

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I spent two days crisscrossing the massive Frankfurt auto show, and the focus on reducing emissions and improving fuel economy and “green” solutions could not be missed. Very few manufacturers were not talking about fuel economy gains in their powertrain lineup and many announced hybrid plans or showed hybrid concepts. What we’re seeing here is the culmination of years of research, rather than fiberglass what-if models. Many of these hybrids or other technology-based solutions will be on the roads later this decade.

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Mercedes-Benz will, during the 2009CY, offer a hybrid powertrain in the S-Class and the M-Class, while a smart fortwo mild hybrid system goes on sale in October. Porsche gave updated the Cayenne’s diesel for more power but also promises a parallel series hybrid using the existing 3.6L V6 by the end of 2010CY. General Motors took the system shown under the Chevrolet Volt in January, replaced the gasoline engine with a diesel one, and created the Opel Flextreme as well as showing off an Opel Corsa Hybrid. Volvo put a plug-in hybrid into the C30 to create the Recharge concept. Land Rover is adding stop-start systems in 2009CY, and Audi will bring a hybrid to the Q7.
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Small cars are more prevalent on international roads and therefore more prevalent at auto shows outside the United States. Toyota brought us the iQ, Volkswagen the up!, and Ford the Verve. Renault’s latest Twingo was on the show floor as well, though this was not its debut.
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Notable exceptions to the small and green game were Ferrari and the 430 Scuderia (introduced by Michael Schumacher himself), the Aston Martin DBS (officially introduced at the 2007 Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance), the Bentley Continental GTS Speed, the Lamborghini Reventon (of which only twenty will be made, with a price tag around $1.4 million), and Maserati.
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Day two of Frankfurt’s show holds most of the supplier press conferences, leaving us a chance to take photos and see some general reaction. Frankfurt’s convention center has 10 halls, with at least seven of them holding the major manufacturers and others holding aftermarket and supplier stands. Walking the full show requires much time and comfortable shows and several hours. Interest was strong in the Mercedes-Benz F700 Concept (previewing the next S-Class), the Audi A4, Opel’s Flextreme, Ford’s Verve and Kuga, and Jaguar’s XF. Peugeot and Citroen concepts, the 308RCZ and the Airscape, saw plenty of attention, as did Nissan’s very odd-looking Mixim.
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The Volkswagen Tiguan stand was flocked with people getting a chance to get in and crawl around the new model, with plenty also checking out the up! city car. Interestingly, every time I went through hall 6, home to Italian makes Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Lancia, Ferrari, and Maserati as well as Porsche and Hyundai it was completely mobbed. On the other hand, Kia’s Kee coupe concept and BMW’s X6 concepts didn’t seem to grab attendees as much.
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While going green may be good for us, hybrid systems and new engine developments don’t make for great pictures or put the enthusiasm into driving that a great-looking design can. Over the coming weeks, we’ll bring you more detailed coverage of many of these. Stay tuned.
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From the Economist – Beauty on the Block – Jag and Land Rover

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This article appeared today on The Economist website and provides their typically British spin on the automotive industry in Britain sometimes to the exclusion of others. Included here with VehicleVoice commentary.
Beauty on the Block
August 30th 2007
From The Economist print edition
A new car and six potential buyers signal hope for Jaguar
EMOTION is said to play a part in many car purchases, but it is less likely to be a factor when buying a car company. Even so, the reaction this week to the first pictures of Jaguar’s new XF saloon will have done nothing to still the beating hearts of the half-dozen or so likely bidders for Jaguar and Land Rover, the two British marques being auctioned together by their beleaguered owner, Ford.

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But who will buy it?
It would be hard to exaggerate the importance to Jaguar of the XF, which is certain to be one of the stars of the Frankfurt motor show in September. It represents a complete design departure from the frumpy “retro” look with which Jaguar has saddled its often well-engineered saloons for the last decade. If the XF’s swooping lines and elegantly modernist interior are a hit with younger customers who would never previously have thought of owning a Jaguar, then the firm, under new ownership, may have a future after all.
VehicleVoiceIn our story of August 28, the XF represents a potential saviour for Jaguar – a car that is coveted by buyers of mid-size luxury cars the world over. As we mentioned then, Ford may be getting out of Jaguar just as it turns the corner. Of course, the very conservatively styled, but excellent, XJ premium luxury entry needs to get an injection of XF DNA the next time it is freshened and that is years off.
Although Ford has refused to name the prospective buyers, they include Tata Motors (a division of Tata Group, an Indian conglomerate), probably another Indian car company, Mahindra & Mahindra, and at least four private-equity firms. These include Cerberus Capital Management (which relieved Daimler of Chrysler), One Equity Partners, Ripplewood Holdings, and Texas Pacific Group.
All the bidders are now deep into due diligence as they prepare to table non-binding offers at the end of September. As well as poring over the books, they are touring facilities and examining plans for future products. They are also competing in a beauty contest for the backing of potentially hostile unions, which fear for the jobs of 19,000 members employed in several British factories. Ford is publicly confident of concluding a sale by early next year at the latest. But reaching a sensible valuation of the two marques, which Ford says must be sold together because their operations have become so tightly integrated, is not proving easy.
VehicleVoice – Don’t forget… The Land Rover LR2 (Freelander II) and Volvo XC60 share a common platform. That’s about the limit of cross marque sharing among Jaguar/Land Rover and other Ford brands. Pulling away from Volvo would be much more problematic for Ford because of cross-platform sharing with Volvo and Ford’s big cars in the USA (Taurus/Sable/Taurus X) and the S60-V70-S60 plus sharing of the European Focus/Mazda3/Volvo C30-S40-V50.
Judging how far the XF will halt the slide in Jaguar’s fortunes—its sales have fallen by almost half from a peak of 130,000 a few years ago—is only one question among many. How long will the weak dollar eat into the sales and earnings of both makers? Is it necessary to have three factories and a separate design centre to build fewer than 270,000 cars a year? What will happen to Jaguar and Land Rover, which make relatively big and thirsty vehicles, if the European Commission goes ahead with its plan to impose upon car manufacturers an average CO2 emission target of 130g/km by 2012? And how will the onset of a global credit squeeze affect what private-equity groups can pay for a capital-intensive business with a time horizon of three to five years?
The answer to the last two questions may depend on the kind of deal that Ford is prepared to do. All the possible bidders seem likely to want something similar to that wrung from Daimler by Cerberus. The German firm not only agreed to hold on to a 20% equity stake in Chrysler, but also provided substantial financing. Any new owner will want to ensure that Ford retains an interest in the future of the business, in part because it may be possible to persuade the commission to count Jaguar and Land Rover as part of Ford’s bigger and more economical range for the purpose of measuring emissions.
As for Ford, its priority is just to get a respectable deal done. Alan Mulally, its chief executive, is adamant that running luxury brands has no part in the company’s future. He also concedes that the credit market’s tightening “absolutely is an issue”. Lovely though the XF may be, Mr Mulally wants someone else to be its proud owner as soon as possible.
VehicleVoice – All true, Economist. But where does that leave Volvo? The rumor mill continues to mention possible sale of Volvo as well, but Volvo is profitable and intimately linked with Ford in a prduct sense. The idea of Ford keeping an equity stake to convince the EU to let Ford’s volumes count against those of Jaguar and Land Rover in emissions regulations is probably absolutely necessary. After all, the present product decisions at Jaguar and Land Rover were made under that scenario – having Ford as a balancer for their worse CO2 emissions.


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2009 Jaguar XF – I Want One

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We’ve been seeing the Jaguar C-XF in concept form at auto shows for a couple of years now. The concept car is a show-stopper. It is gorgeous from any angle and so sporty that it makes the Mercedes CLS 4-door coupe look like a taxi. And that was my initial problem with the XF concept. Looked like it was a car you couldn’t live with for long. All the disadvantages of a coupe without the advantages of carrying around a couple of more doors.

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XF Looks Great in Production Form
Well, the first photos of the real Jaguar XF have just been released and the car looks great! It is clearly a Jaguar, but will never be mistaken as a previous generation car like the present XJ sedan is. Coming out in the 1st Quarter 2008 as a 2009 model, the XF should arrive just after Ford has closed the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover to somebody. Too bad, XF may be the single car that makes the Jaguar proposition profitable for the first time in fifty years.
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The XF is a 4-door sedan, for now at least. Apparently, Jag is playing with the idea of a wagon and coupe models, but given their dire financial situation it’s doubtful we’ll se anything but the sedan for many years. Even with the 4-door you have to question whether anyone over 5-feet 4-inches will be able to sit in the rear seat or how difficult it is to get in the driver’s seat?
USA Gets V8-Only – Right Plan?
While other markets will get V6 and diesel versions of the XF, the USA will get only the 4.2L V8 giving the XF a performance image from the get-go. While other cars in the mid-luxury class are struggling to sell even 20% of their mix in V8 form, XF is going whole hog. how this will pan out in this era of high fuel prices (the Brits will laugh at that one – I paid over $8.00 per gallon when I was over there a couple of months ago), and environmental consciousness. Maybe a V8-only plan is not the right way to go. Time will tell on that one, and Jag does have a V6 to fall back on.
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New Owners May Inherit a Jaguar with Potential of Profit
Jaguar may be on its death bed and that is when some companies make the last gasp and make a heroic come-back. Remember Ford in the 1980s when the Taurus saved their butt with its advanced and innovative styling? Remember the Explorer redefining the SUV market and making it was for over 15 years? Remember the Chrysler 300? All vehicles made when their makers were up against the ropes or on the respirator. XF could be Jaguar’s saviour on the product-side. Now, I wonder who will buy the business just before XF is introduced?


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Who Will Ford Sell Parts of PAG To?

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This article appeared in the July 26th web-release by the British business magazine The Economist. VehicleVoice commentary is peppered throughout.
Ford: A costly distraction
July 26th 2007: From The Economist print edition
Ford is selling off its premium brands. Who will buy them?
Ford’s High Hopes for the Premier Automotive Group Never Materialized
WHEN Jacques Nasser, Ford’s boss in the late 1990s, bought two premium European car brands, he had high hopes for his new luxury-car division, which came to be known as the Premier Automotive Group (PAG). By 2005, the firm predicted, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo would sell 1m cars a year, earn more than $1 billion annually and account for about one-third of Ford’s profits. But eight years on the PAG is consistently losing money and sells about one-third fewer cars than predicted—and Ford itself is haunted by the spectre of bankruptcy.
New Ford Regime Under Alan Mulally Puts PAG on the Block Piecemeal
After some initial hesitation Alan Mulally, the chief executive brought in from Boeing last September, decided to put bits of the PAG on the block. In March he sold Aston Martin for $848m, and in June he appointed three banks to field potential buyers for Land Rover and Jaguar. The bidding period ended on July 19th with an unexpectedly high number of potential suitors, thought to include Cerberus Capital Management (the private-equity group that bought Chrysler in May), TPG Capital, Ripplewood Holdings and One Equity Partners (a private-equity firm where Mr Nasser now works), along with India’s Tata Motors and the Mahindra Group.
Click here to find out more!
VehicleVoice Spin: How much of this is circuitous reporting by the international media? Ford has admitted that potential sale of Jaguar and Land Rover is on the horizon, but how accurate is the list of potential bidders The Economist cites? Wouldn’t it be interesting if Cerberus bought Jaguar and Land Rover to be the luxury marques for Chrysler Group?
Ah, Here Comes the Volvo Rumor Again…
Ford is also considering a sale of Volvo, a Swedish maker of premium cars, and the most valuable and profitable bit of the PAG. Last year Volvo is believed to have made a profit, though the PAG as a whole lost $2.3 billion. (Ford does not break out details of the division’s financial results.) But although selling Jaguar and Land Rover would make sense, it is less clear that the same is true of Volvo, says Jonathan Steinmetz, an analyst at Morgan Stanley, an investment bank. Volvo is more integrated into Ford than the two other brands, with several Ford and Volvo vehicles sharing chassis designs and parts. Volvo is also far bigger by units sold—it accounted for 7% of sales in 2006, compared with 3% for Land Rover and 1% for Jaguar—which helps to spread development costs.
Former Chairman of AMC Says Ford Should Unload All of PAG and Tend to Knitting
But Gerald Meyers, a former chairman of the American Motors Corporation, a carmaker bought by Chrysler, thinks Ford should sell all of the PAG and get what cash it can. Since Ford is in the middle of a multi-year turnaround plan, any distraction from rescuing its core American business is counterproductive, he argues. (In a sign that the plan might at last be working, Ford announced a surprise profit of $750m for the second quarter on July 26th.)
Now This One Doesn’t Make Much Sense
BMW of Germany is one possible bidder for Volvo. BMW says it is keeping its eyes open for takeover targets, though it has had its fingers burnt by acquisitions in the past. Volvo and BMW are compatible premium brands, says Marc-René Tonn, an analyst at MM Warburg, an investment bank in Hamburg. But they do not fit technically: Volvos rely on front-wheel drive, BMWs on rear-wheel drive. Renault would be a more logical buyer, says Thierry Huon at Exane, a brokerage in Paris. Renault needs a premium brand, having failed to build one itself. And the Renault and Volvo brands, with their common emphasis on safety, fit together well.
VehicleVoice Spin: BMW tried its hand with “The English Patient” – Rover and Land Rover – in the 1990s. BMW ended up selling Rover to an investment group for £10 and selling Land Rover to Ford for a couple billion dollars. Volvo cars are based on front wheel drive platforms, BMWs are rear wheel drive (with the exception of MINI). There isn’t much synergy here. Much different mindsets as well. This could well be The English Patient all over again if BMW is so anxious to acquire more brands.
Volvo Group Buys Back Volvo… Now That’s an Idea
Another possible buyer is Volvo Group, the lorry-making (heavy trucks, to Americans) parent firm that sold its car unit to Ford in 1999. This would reunite the two divisions, but there are no synergies between carmaking and lorry-making, which is why the cars were spun off. It is more likely that Renault will sell its 21% stake in Volvo Group to help finance its purchase of the carmaker.
Can Ford Recoup Its Investment in Money and Resources in the PAG Units?
Estimates of the proceeds from a sale of the PAG range from $8 billion to $16 billion. Ford could invest the money in its remaining brands—Ford, Lincoln, Mercury and Mazda—or in product development. But it would probably be wisest to restructure its health-care liabilities, which it is currently discussing with the United Auto Workers (UAW), the car industry’s main union. Mr Mulally is pressing the UAW to set up a union-managed trust that would enable Ford to take tens of billions of dollars of retiree health-care liabilities off its balance sheet. Such a trust would need to be funded up front—so cash from the sale of the PAG would come in handy.
VehicleVoice Spin: <Ford’s immediate headache is the 2007 UAW negotiations and indeed medical costs are a major part of the equation. Ford needs concessions to improve its profit picture and help guarantee those UAW workers their jobs. But, this is still the car business and Ford has fallen behind. Not as far behind as Chrysler, but General Motors has certainly taken the lead in product development of late. Ford needs to restructure not only the Company but also its product lineup. If getting rid of PAG – including Volvo – gets their attention back on the ball, so be it.
But think of these things… Many Ford middle managers now have positions with PAG brands either in Europe or headquartered in Irvine, California. Would they go back to the mother ship? Have they learned enough at PAG brands to be an asset to Ford? Would their departure hurt the PAG brands further? On the product sharing side, The Economist article rightly states that Volvo, Ford and Mazda are successfully sharing platforms. How could Volvo continue that in a cost-effective way if they were to be sold? The transfer pricing would be a bitch. Don’t forget either that the new Land Rover Freelander II/LR2 shares its architecture with the upcoming Volvo XC60. Wow, this is complicated.


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Here We Go Again… Ford To Sell Volvo!!!!!

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In some ways, we have been remiss with our coverage of the potential restructuring of Ford Motor Company through the sale of Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Most of the reporting in the popular and business media has been tilting at windmills. Reporters reporting rumors without verifying facts. And the latest twitch that Ford is to soon announce it is selling Volvo may indeed be the same.
Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo comprise Ford’s Premier Automotive Group and their American headquarters are just five exits south of AutoPacific on the 5-Freeway. Of course, Ford has already sold off Aston Martin for just shy of $1 billion. Is there more to follow? We don’t KNOW, but we have some ideas.
Is the Press Generating its Own News?
If you have followed the business news, the British press has piled on Ford selling Jaguar and Land Rover. Jim Hall’s June 27 story puts much of the rumor blame on Keith Crain’s Automotive News having overreacted to a short blurb in British car mag Autocar. Once AutoNews ran the story everyone else jumped on. Similarly, recent reports have Ford selling Volvo a much larger and more profitable proposition than selling off Jaguar and/or Land Rover. Would there be a likelihood that Ford could off-load all of PAG? Another don’t KNOW, but it would be difficult. More on that later.
Loans Collateralized by Jaguar/Land Rover/Volvo Assets At Risk?
The huge loans Ford took last year used its automotive assets as collateral. That included Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo. Should Ford attempt to unload those assets, then the basics of the loan would have to be renegotiated. And Ford’s automotive assets without Jag/LR/Volvo or any of the three may not meet the coverage requirements. That’s another don’t KNOW, but a guess.
Unbundling Product Sharing Will be a Problem
Over the years, Ford Motor Company has attempted to make its product development activities more efficient by sharing products between Ford/Jaguar/Land Rover/Volvo/Mazda. In fact, Ford’s super successful European Focus/Mazda3/Volvo S40/V50 platform has resulted in excellent vehicles for each brand. Similarly, the Land Rover LR2 (Freelander II)/Volvo XC60 will be shared. Ford based the Jaguar S-Type off the LS Platform which also yielded the Lincoln LS, the Ford Thunderbird and, loosely, the Ford Mustang.
While these relationships may be maintained or even strengthened if Ford sells-off one or more of the PAG brands, it won’t be easy.
And if Ford gets rid of its PAG brands it will miss out on the revenue and profit potential of the critically acclaimed Jaguar XF sport sedan and the Volvo XC60 Crossover SUV.
We Believe ‘Em, Don’t We?
So, as of July 18, 2007, we believe it when Ford says it is looking at all options, but that the Company has not made a decision to sell Jaguar, Land Rover or Volvo. Think about it this way, Chrysler’s merger of equals with Daimler-Benz was not leaked before it happened. Great security. Similarly, Ford’s acquisition of Volvo came out of the blue. Maybe there is just too much smoke now for there to be any fire.


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Ford Sells Jaguar/Land Rover – When "All The News That's Fit To Print" Ceases To Be News

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I’m sure many of you have seen at least a few of the recent “news” reports that Ford will be selling its Jaguar/Land Rover operations any day now. Potential buyers mentioned (by people who should know MUCH better) have run the gamut from Fiat to Renault to a couple of Asian companies, with a few private equity groups thrown in because the Cerberus-Chrysler deal must be the beginning of a trend. Only a few weeks ago, Automotive News, that renowned and (too) oft-quoted trade weekly, let go with the spectacular revelation that Ford was just about to announce the sale of its Volvo car unit to BMW.
Wherever do they come up with this stuff?
To start with, the sale of Jaguar/Land Rover, or Jaguar alone. Or Land Rover alone or even Volvo would require Ford Motor Company to re-negotiate the conditions of the massive cash loans it took out late last year. Why, you may ask? Put simply, Ford placed its “automotive operations” (as well as a bevy of other assets) up as collateral for the much-need infusion of capital. Admittedly, the company could go to its lenders and revise its loans so the beleaguered automaker could shed one of these units, but said negotiations are rarely quick, difficult to keep quiet and always painful.
But amongst all the chatter about Jag, Land Rover and Volvo’s imminent sale(s), not a word has leaked from the financial community. Strange, isn’t it?
And regarding the acquisition of Volvo by BMW, beyond the obvious issue that Volvo brings no usable asset or technology to the Bavarian automaker, the story is a complete fabrication. It seems the idea got started at Autocar magazine in the UK earlier this year in kind of a “what if” three-liner needed to fill out a column. Within a week or so the story was passing around the European enthusiast publications. The chatter got loud enough for numerous people at BMW (execs and PR types alike) to deny it. This only created a buzz amongst a few key European business and financial rags. The result was the astonishing transformation of filler postulation into NEWS. Not it’s not strange, it is sad. Very, very sad.


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