Mumbai: Union officials and lawmakers are worried that a possible acquisition of Ford Motor Co.'s UK units, Jaguar and Land Rover, by buyout firms will cut jobs and sully the image of iconic brands.
Dearborn, Michigan-based Ford said it was exploring strategic options for the two brands. The company has hired Goldman, Sachs & Co., HSBC Holding Plc and Morgan Stanley to advise on the sale.
Private equity firms Apollo Management LP, Cerberus Capital Management LP and Blackstone Group LP are interested in taking control of the two auto units, while the other firms did not return calls, according to the Independent.
Another equity firm, Alchemy Partners, also confirmed its interest in the assets, although it denied any imminent bid plans. The firm is too small to bid alone and may consider joining a consortium.
The firm had earlier made an attempt to acquire MG Rover Group Ltd in 2000 from BMW AG, but at that time two-thirds of the company's work force had to be fired and the historic MG business needed to be sold.
BMW finally sold the Land Rover business to Ford.
Jaguar and Land Rover are part of Ford's money-losing Premier Automotive Group. These premium brands, however, are a distraction to Ford's core business of selling mass-market cars and trucks. Aston Martin, another unit in the Premier group, was sold in March to a group of investors, led by racing driver David Richards, for $925 million, while retaining $77 million investment in the company.
Tony Woodley, joint general secretary of Unite, Britain and Ireland 's largest trade union, expressed concern about the thousands of members employed in Jaguar and Land River plants in the West Midlands and on Merseyside. Jaguar has about 10,000 staff in Coventry, Birmingham and Liverpool, while Land Rover employs 9,000 in the West Midlands and Warwickshire.
"If the only choice is the asset-stripping private equity option, then there should be some form of direct government intervention to make sure these manufacturing champions, these iconic brands and a major plank of British manufacturing industry, are secured for the longer term, both for jobs and the economy of our country," Woodley said.
Woodley said the union has written to Ford to press for an urgent meeting on the future of Jaguar and Land Rover. One member of parliament who has ties to unions said he would favor a sale of the Ford units to a strategic buyer who would make them "like mini BMWs" and reinvest in the companies.
Private equity players in the UK find themselves in a difficult position as the British government debates whether or not to remove buyout firm tax breaks, most notably the treatment of investment income as a capital gain.
Trade unions alarmed at the prospect of private equity-induced job cuts are putting pressure on politicians as well as other labour leaders against sellouts to buyout firms. GMB, Britain's general trade union, and voters set off a wave of populist attacks on UK buyout firms Permira and CVC Capital Partners Ltd. after CVC began slashing jobs early last year at the Automobile Association Ltd.
"We are concerned at GMB, because it's another opportunity for a large private equity firm to come in and take over a division of a great British manufacturer, and they are not interested in making great product, just profits," said Maria Ludkin, GMB legal and political officer.
A government spokeswoman, however, ruled out state intervention in the sale.