Ford on Thursday said it had begun the process of exploring "strategic options for Aston Martin, with particular emphasis on a potential sale of all or a portion of the unit".

"As part of our ongoing strategic review, we have determined that Aston Martin may be an attractive opportunity to raise capital and generate value," said chairman and chief executive officer Bill Ford in a statement.

"Aston Martin Lagonda has flourished under Ford ownership, which is why we believe it is prudent to consider a sale of all or part of this prized brand. Since Aston Martin's dealer network, product architecture and size are distinctly different from other Ford brands, it is the most logical and capital-smart divestiture choice.

"The objective of any sale would be to position Aston Martin within a structure and resource base sufficient to allow it to reach its full potential, while enabling Ford to efficiently raise capital for its other brands."

Ford added, "Regarding our other Premier Automotive Group brands, we've made no decisions, as our review of strategic alternatives continues. However, we continue to be encouraged by Jaguar's progress and by the strength and consumer appeal of the Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo product lineups."

The company said the decision didn't guarantee the brand would be sold off, however.

Dave Osborne, the UK Transport and General Workers' Union (T&G) National Secretary for the car industry, said in a statement: "We understand that consideration of the sale of Aston Martin is part of Ford's strategic review, where all options are on the table but no decisions have yet been made. Aston Martin is an iconic brand and is rightly prized by Ford.

"Whilst the future for Aston Martin is under review, our priority remains as always the safeguarding of members' jobs."

Aston Martin builds its cars in a small plant adjacent to a Premier Automotive Group R&D Centre in Gaydon, Warwickshire.