Ford Death Watch 34: PAG Pegs Out. Who Will Buy Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo?

Michael Martineck
by Michael Martineck

Adoption is a lengthy process. Prospective parents must submit to all kinds of scrutiny to prove themselves suitable child care providers. And for good reason. You can’t give ‘em back, as they say. Not so in the business world. Ford has officially put siblings Jaguar and Land Rover up for sale, with some sources placing Volvo’s custody in question. The move ends nearly a year of speculation, or nearly two decades of speculation, depending on how prophetic you’ve been.

A great many car people groaned when Ford grabbed the cat’s tail back in ‘89. Presciently enough, they worried that the American automaker wouldn’t “understand” and “respect” the Jaguar brand. Ten years later, they groaned again when Ford purchased Britain’s provider of “Chelsea Tractors” (Land Rover). BMW, OK, maybe. But Ford?

Analysts considered both purchases losers. Even if the brands could be brought up to snuff, they’d cost too much money to repair. When Volvo and Aston Martin joined the Premium Automotive Group (PAG), critics were more optimistic about those marques’ chances. In the end, both armchair analysts and the professional soothsayers were proved correct.

Last year, Ford lost $12.7b. The Blue Oval doesn’t break out PAG’s numbers, but insiders suggest the European brands lost $2.32b of that total. Volvo broke even last year and Land Rover climbed into the black. Aston Martin has moved on, leaving the cat holding the bag.

Despite protestations of corporate loyalty, Alan Mulally’s mob instructed Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to launch “Project Swift” (a perfect codename for anyone wondering about Ford’s desperation level). The money men are set to handle the sale of Jaguar and Land Rover– though that may not be the best word to describe the divestiture.

Land Rover is on track to sell about 195k vehicles this year, bringing in about $9b. After looking at the costs of doing business, Merrill Lynch and Co. told the Wall Street Journal they think the outfit is worth about $2.7b. Ford paid $3b for Landy ten years ago. Factor in inflation and, well, that’s sad. But it’s better than Jaguar's progress (or lack thereof).

Ford bought Jaguar for $2.6b (approximately $4b in today’s dollars). In the last three years, they’ve lost an addition $2.9b. Ford’s in the hole $600m so far this year. That puts Jaguar’s value in the negative numbers. While that’s not unusual in the car business– DaimlerChrysler had to dangle a plenty juicy deal to get Cerberus to bite-– it’s not good either.

Citigroup analysts reckon Jaguar and Land Rover could fetch $8b. As the marques share parts and production facilities, splitting them up could drastically reduce that number. Others don’t put the number that high in the first place.

This is where Volvo comes in. Although Ford has stated the Swedish brand is staying, when inside sources are questioned they tend to whistle and look the other way. Volvo is considered viable. To ensure all three PAG brands find a good home, Ford may have to throw in its Swedish contingent.

And where might that home be? Speculation is, at the moment, a lot less than rampant.

The aforementioned DaimlerChrysler is not in a buying mood, as they are in the process of selling their suffix. General Motors has been brand hungry since formation, but they’re a little shy this week (year, decade). Toyota traditionally favors natural conception. Renault said it isn't interested, as their cash flow has diminished as of late. Fiat has voiced some interest in future acquisitions, but like The General, their reach presently exceeds their grasp.

As recently as January, BMW AG publicly expressed desire to purchase Volvo. The deal never ripened. Considering the complications-– like the weirdness of BMW taking control of Land Rover seven years after selling it to Ford-– further discussions seem implausible. That said, many in Munich feel the BMW brand is stretched to its limits. Adding another brand, as the company did with MINI, may be the best way to grow the biz.

Ford sold Aston Martin to a consortium of investors including Prodrive’s David Richards and a pair of Kuwaiti companies. This financial formula portends the most likely scenario: Land Rover and Jaguar’s buyers will come from outside the current automotive arena.

Jon Moulton, of the private equity firm Alchemy Partners in London, told Businessweek he was interested in Jaguar and Land Rover “on an emotional level.” (He also thought the price would probably be too high.) Though neither company has made much or any money for the owners in the last 20 years or more, he insists the brands are “alluring.”

Private equity firms like Alchemy and Cerberus are not considered solid stewards for wayward automakers. They shun scrutiny, avoiding the kind of open communications one looks for in a happy family. They can, however, put food on the table. That’s about as good as it’s gonna get.

Michael Martineck
Michael Martineck

More by Michael Martineck

Join the conversation
2 of 41 comments
  • PLZwiseup PLZwiseup on Jun 18, 2007

    Geotpf, you are absolutely right. I can not recall how many times I was in the mood to change my ride but honestly, nothing in the market now touch me as my good ole Conti. I mean, when I saw her for the first time, I felt she was really dancing itself in the parking lot... Also I'm not sure, I think lexus might not be counted as an all out competitor for luxury marque. before the firestone fiasco ? Ford has its issues, tell me which big Corp has not. but that's it, I don't appreciate the idea of describing it as an evil empire.

  • Ctice2 Ctice2 on Jun 18, 2007

    I think that Hyundai should buy Jag. They have the production capability, fit and finish and upmarket aspirations. The only thing missing is heritage and snob appeal to enable them the sell $50K cars. Jag would be a good fit.

  • EBFlex More proof of how much EVs suck. If you have to do this, that means you are trying to substitute what people want...and that's ICE.
  • ChristianWimmer The interior might be well-made, but the design is just hideous in my opinion. It’s to busy and there’s no simplistic harmony visible in it. In fact I feel that the nicest Lexus interior ever could be found in the original LS400 - because it was rather minimalistic, had pleasing lines and didn’t try to hard. It looked just right. All Lexus interiors which came after it just had bizarre styling cues and “tried to hard” if you know what I mean.
  • THX1136 As a couple of folks have mentioned wasn't this an issue with the DeLorean? I seem to recall that it was claimed you could do a 'minor' buff of the surface and it would be good as new. Guess I don't see why it's a big deal if it can be so easily rectified. Won't be any different than getting out and waxing the car every so often - part of ownership, eh.
  • ToolGuy This kind of thing might be interesting in a racing simulator.
  • FreedMike Hmmm, electric powered vibrations. Is this the long rumored move into products market?