Company in India might bid on Jaguar

AP / File
Ratan Tata, the chairman of Tata Group, is looking to acquire Jaguar and Land Rover.

NEW DELHI - For this former British colony, an Indian takeover of Jaguar and Land Rover would be a boost to local pride and a sign of India's economic rise.


But many investors and automotive industry analysts question whether a bid by India's Tata Motors - maker of workhorse trucks and low-end mass market cars - for the two luxury brands would make much business sense.

Chairman Ratan Tata confirmed last month that he is interested in entering the competition for the iconic Britain-based automakers, which have been put on the auction block by financially troubled Ford Motor Co. Several U.S. private equity firms are also expected to submit bids.

Mr. Tata has said such an acquisition would help bring global visibility to his group - a sprawling conglomerate that makes everything from automobiles to steel and software, and a name that until recently was little-known outside India.

Tata Steel made a splash in January when it won a bidding war to buy Anglo-Dutch steel maker Corus Group PLC for $12.1 billion. That deal, India's biggest foreign acquisition, highlights the country's recent outward expansion into the global economy.

Though the Corus acquisition was widely seen as a good match - and since appears to be paying off - experts don't see similar synergies in a Tata Motors takeover of Jaguar and Land Rover.

Long a giant in truck and bus manufacturing, Mr. Tata has only about a decade of experience selling cars - and most recently, has grabbed headlines with Tata Motors' plan to make an ultracheap car costing about $2,400. The company has been successful selling into the burgeoning Indian market.

Jaguar and Land Rover are luxury brands that cater to a small percentage of customers and have a limited distribution network. What Mr. Tata needs more, if he wants to reduce dependence on Indian buyers, is a large overseas sales network that targets the mass market, experts say.

"It makes no sense at all," said S. Ramnath, an auto analyst at Mumbai-based brokerage firm SSK Securities Ltd. "It's passion that is behind this move."

Morgan Stanley analyst Balaji Jayaraman called such an acquisition "value-destructive given the lack of synergies and the high-cost operations involved," in a note to clients.

Still, people tracking the matter say Tata Motors has a good chance of bagging the bundled sale of Jaguar and Land Rover brands. A possible bid from the Indian automaker puts it in competition with U.S. private equity firms, including One Equity Partners LLC. and Ripplewood Holdings LLC that each have partnered with former Ford executives.

Morton Pierce, the head of mergers at the New York-based law firm Dewey Ballantine LLP, thinks Mr. Tata has an edgebecause U.S. private equity firms might find it difficult to raise funds for such acquisitions in the midst of a credit shortage sparked by trouble in the mortgage market.

An executive from a European consulting firm with close ties to Jaguar said Tata Motors has a high probability of winning if it bids. The executive didn't want to be identified because of his association with the acquisition target.