• Was Ford’s Sale of Jaguar and Land Rover a Good Deal or a Great Deal?

Was Ford's Sale of Jaguar and Land Rover a Good Deal or a Great Deal?
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Selling Jaguar and Land Rover has a bonus for the Ford Motor Company beyond the $2.3 billion it will deposit into the bank.

The sale also dumps some really dismal fuel economy numbers, making it just that much easier for Ford to comply with the new federal Corporate Average Fuel Economy rules. It also frees up some cash that Ford can use to try to preserve market share. Perhaps most importantly, though, it ends the money pit that the Ford family created when they let Jacques Nasser run the company.

Indeed, even though Ford received far less from Tata for the brands than it had originally paid, let alone what it had invested in Jaguar and Land Rover, in the end the deal might actually turn out to be a sweet deal for Dearborn.

(more after the jump)

One analyst, quoted on the ibranz.com blog, put it this way: “Certainly there is an issue with Land Rover because the CAFE standards are coming in, depending on environmental issues, the brand could really be in trouble.” She added that current management at Land Rover and Jaguar has not been able to produce a profit, which leaves a bleak outlook for the future. “Everything needs to be a home run for this company to turn around.”

It also frees up cash to spend on Lincoln.

The same analyst pointed out, as well, that “General Motors spent billions to bring Cadillac back; Ford tried to revise Lincoln on the cheap. That doesn’t work. You have to spend billions and get it right: design, powertrain, production, ads – everything needs to be right and that takes both money and people.”

While those last remarks by the analyst were directed at Lincoln’s uphill struggle, they can’t be much comfort to the new owners of Jaguar and Land Rover, either. Between 1999 and 2007, sales of Jaguar in the United States dropped from 35,000 to 15,000 vehicles per year, with sales of the price-leading S-Type having dropped to 3,500 in 2007, contrasted with the 25,500 sold in 2000.

Domestic auto makers have, for decades, believed that protecting market share was the single most important aspect of the business. It is an article of faith in the industry that it is less expensive to protect market share, even at the cost of losing money, than it is to regain market share once lost. GM’s experience with Cadillac, once the top of the luxury segment and now third, behind Lexus and Mercedes-Benz, simply illustrates the validity of that belief.

Though it’s not received much attention in the financial press, the effect of upcoming fuel economy and emissions regulations, both in the United States and the European Union, on Jaguar and Land Rover have the potential to be crippling to both brands. Their German competitors all have strategies in place for dealing with these upcoming regulations. Audi, for example, has Volkswagen to help offset the costs. BMW and Daimler each have much larger volumes than Jaguar and both are committed to moving down-market with smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. BMW and Daimler also have alluded to the possibility of collaboration on powertrains, as necessary to meet EU regulations.

Jaguar and Land Rover, however, are far behind their competitors in developing alternate fuel technologies, partly because Ford didn’t invest the money in developing them for those brands and partly because Ford itself, despite all of the “green” talk of former CEO Bill Ford, Jr., is itself lagging in that area. Though Toyota’s Prius has given that company the public image of being “green,” it’s General Motors which actually has the technological lead in hybrids, electric cars, and ethanol. The only companies that come even close – Chrysler and BMW – do so because they’ve collaborated with GM.

Tata has, of course, made headlines with its $2,500 car, the cheap car for the emerging world, the car that no one else could build.

Tata, however, has yet to prove that they can make money on that car. While it seems obvious that emerging countries would want a cheap car, history teaches that no one really wants to be labeled as driving a “cheap car.”

Tata is, at bottom, betting that the people who make cars are missing something. That’s the same theory, though on a lesser scale, that animated the Cerberus purchase of Chrysler.

It is conventional wisdom among many, perhaps self included, to criticize the domestic automakers.

But, this time Ford hit a home run. It lost money, because it had poor management when it had Jaques Nasser running the company. He was the man who acquired all of these brands that Ford is now selling, more as a matter of personal flair than of economic sense. Of course, the Ford family let him do it, which is a tribute to their stupidity. The same brillian management that tolerates the Detroit Lions has animated Ford since Hank the Duece’s death.

But, even so, dumping Jag and Land Rover was brilliant. Getting paid real money for them was miraculous. This much can be said for Bill Ford, Jr. - he had the wisdom to get a guy that could sell those brands into the company, and it paid off.

Think about it.

It costs at least $5 billion to bring a new car, using conventional technology but a new platform, to market. That’s money out the door before the first set of wheels is sold.

Then, you have to sell the thing on price because somebody else made the same $5 billion investment, and – when it comes right down to it – you’re selling a commodity. Even though you’d like your product to be a prestige item, like a Rolex, reality intrudes: even prestige is a commodity. You can get it from a Cadillac, a BMW, a Benz, or an Audi.

And, of course, there are few products more dependent on the price of money than cars. It’s not the interest rate paid by the consumer that’s important. It’s the ability to keep the consumer paying the monthly, even as the price of the product goes up. That requires, at root, an expanding credit market, one that banks (pardon the pun) on the notion that tomorrow will always be better than today. That is not, however, the current expectation.

So, Tata is now the owner of Jaguar and Land Rover.

No doubt, we all wish them well. We all have fond memories of Sir William Lyons and the XK-E.

But, then, we also fondly recall the Duesenberg.

Ralph Kalal
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What do you think?
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  (4) posted on 03.27.2008

A brilliant deal?
Ford should have unloaded these two brands a while ago when it was hemorrhaging all that money. I don’t see any "brilliance" in them waiting until now to make the deal.
Moreover, the reason Jag/Land Rover are lacking development in the field of alternative fuel technologies is, as you rightly pointed out, because Ford itself hasn’t made any foray into the field themselves. And that could be attributed, at least partially if not mostly, to the fact that Ford did not have the finance to spare on research and development.
Tata, however, has some cash to spare.

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