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Ford picks India's Tata as top bidder for Jaguar, Land Rover

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Ford Motor Co. has picked India's Tata Motors Ltd. as the top bidder to buy Ford's Jaguar and Land Rover units, the U.S. automaker said Thursday.

Ford said it has entered into ``focused negotiations at a more detailed level'' with Tata, which means Tata has been picked as a preferred bidder for the storied British automobile brands.

``There is still a considerable amount of work to do, and while no final decision has been made, we will proceed with further substantive discussions with Tata Motors over the forthcoming weeks with a view to securing an agreement that is in the best interests of all parties concerned,'' Lewis Booth, executive vice-president of Ford's European units, said in a statement.

Jaguar and Land Rover employees in the United Kingdom were told about the negotiations Thursday morning shortly before the company made the public announcement.

Ford executives have said they expect to announce the sale of the two British automakers early this year.

Ford spokesman Jay Ward in London would not comment on how much Tata bid for the automakers, nor would he say if the other two bidders, Indian automaker Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. and U.S. private equity firm One Equity Partners LLC, were still in the running.

Last month people close to the negotiations said the potential suitors had submitted bids that ranged from US$1.5 billion to $2 billion.

Cash-hungry Ford, which lost $12.6 billion last year but earned $88 million in the first nine months of 2007, has been looking to sell Jaguar and Land Rover.

It has mortgaged its assets to borrow money to stay operating and expects to burn up $12 billion to $14 billion until 2009, when it plans to return to sustained profitability.

Jaguar and Land Rover have been hit by unfavourable exchange rates and high production costs in Britain.

Ford bought Jaguar for $2.5 billion in 1989 and Land Rover for $2.7 billion in 2000, joining them with Aston Martin and Volvo to form its Premier Automotive Group.

Earlier this year, Ford completed the sale of its controlling stake in Aston Martin for $931 million in cash and preferred stock.

Ford has said it plans to keep Volvo for now, fixing its cost structure and making it a more premium brand.

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Ford picks India's Tata as top bidder for Jaguar, Land Rover
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