JANUARY 7, 2008

Indians moving in?

The Ford Motor Company has informed its Jaguar and Land Rover workers that it is in "focused negotiations" to sell the two brands to India's Tata Motors. Jaguar and Land Rover have been up for sale for six months but this is the first time that Ford has publicly revealed a possible buyer.

Tata is India's leading producer of commercial vehicles and the country's second biggest passenger car company. Buying the two British brands is part of an expansion programme which aims to turn Tata into a major player in the automotive world in the future. Tata already has the Tata Motors European Technical Centre at the University of Warwick in England. This is a centre of excellence that is designed to accelerate the company‚ĄĘs technical capabilities.

As part of this process the company is planning to unveil a $2500 "people's car" for India later this month. This will be a 33hp, four-door vehicle, that is aimed at attracting motorbike owners in India. Tata believes that as many as two million motorcycle owners will be in a position to buy the new cars in the next two or three years. The company would then provide them with more advanced models as the new Indian middle class develops in the years ahead.

The news raises some interesting possibilities in Formula 1. Force India owner Vijay Mallya's aim in F1 is do business with his fellow countrymen and use F1 for the betterment of their businesses and the image of India as a whole. Tata would be an obvious partner for him. In order to move up the Formula 1 grid, Mallya will ultimately need a manufacturer engine of his own. Tata would make a good partner. And, while the company may not have any experience in F1 engine building, this could be acquired quickly and easily as Cosworth in Northampton knows all about F1 V8s and would no doubt be keen to get back into F1. Cosworth is owned by Champ Car World Series partners Kevin Kalkhoven and Gerry Forsythe, who bought the firm when Ford packed up its F1 operations. Their aim was to secure an engine supply for their championship.

It is worth noting that back in 2001 Ford looked seriously at creating a motorsport campus at Silverstone with plans to relocate Jaguar Racing (now Red Bull Racing) and Cosworth to a purpose built facility at Silverstone.

Perhaps one day the Indians will take over that idea.