Private London-based equity firm Alchemy Partners has denied a Monday morning newspaper report it is readying a £3bn ($US5.9bn) bid for Ford’s luxury UK brands Jaguar and Land Rover.

“There’s nothing going on,” Alchemy spokesman Richard Oldfield told just-auto. “I understand that [Alchemy managing partner] Jon Moulton said something in the past about being emotionally interested in the brands but that was all.

“They are not working on anything on this front.”

The City AM newspaper quoted Moulton as saying: “I am very interested in a bid for Land Rover and Jaguar in particular. These two marques come together because they share similar platforms.”

According to the paper, Moulton believes his GBP3bn bid is a realistic offer for the two famous names though some observers feel Ford will not accept less than £4bn for its luxury marques.

City AM added that Ford, led by chief executive Alan Mulally, is understood to have hired investment banks Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley to hawk its Premier Automotive Group (PAG), which includes Volvo as well as the two British-based marques, to prospective buyers.

The paper said that the move is a departure for Morgan Stanley, which has a long-standing relationship with Ford’s rival General Motors.

Moulton also told the paper: “The quality of the Jaguar and the Land Rover product has improved in recent years. What is needed now is to produce lower volumes of the cars to make the businesses a success.”

The paper said that Moulton is unlikely to be the sole party interested in acquiring PAG. It said analysts believe other possible bidders may include French giant Renault, Dave Richards – who led a Kuwati-backed consortium to buy Aston Martin from Ford in March this year – and David James, who bought the rights to manufacture Smart from DaimlerChrysler.

London-based Ford spokesman John Gardiner declined to confirm or deny the report when approached by just-auto on Monday.

But he noted that Ford has made no secret of the fact that it is assessing and evaluating the future all its automotive operations globally.

City AM said Ford has consistently denied it has plans to sell Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo but added it understood the automaker has had failed talks with Fiat about a sale, a contradiction of the group’s stated policy.

According to the paper, Fiat group chief executive Sergio Marchionne and PAG head Lewis Booth ended the discussions because Fiat feared adverse effects.

The Detroit News reported last January that the Jaguar brand lost over $US715m in 2006.

The paper, which obtained details of an internal analysis outlined to executives, said the luxury marque was expected to lose more than $550m this year, more than $300m next year and is not expecting a profit for several years.

Though the paper acknowledged the brand finally seems to have a realistic turnaround strategy as it turns away from mass market models to concentrate on building elegant sport coupes and sedans for the motoring elite, and analysts reportedly applauded the new strategy, it insisted that anyone familiar with then-new ex-Boeing Ford CEO Alan Mulally’s disdain for money losers had to question Jaguar’s future.

The Detroit News said at the time Mulally had made it clear he was taking a hard look at the marque.

According to the paper, Ford’s 1989 purchase of Jaguar for $2.5bn was far more than conventional wisdom held the brand was worth and it was widely viewed as a vanity purchase. Since then, Ford has invested about $10bn in the brand, including a $1.2bn bail-out in 2005.

“Clearly, a huge amount of money has been spent on Jaguar by Ford; much of that will never be recouped,” Garel Rhys, director of the Centre for Automotive Industry at Cardiff University in Wales, told the Detroit News in January, adding: “Jaguar has something like 18 months to demonstrate that the money is doing something.”

BNP Paribas analyst Bradley Rubin told the Detroit News in January: “They’ve never been profitable. They’ve just been bleeding money. If I were Ford, I’d cash in my chips.”

He added that Wall Street would welcome a sale: “It’s a huge distraction. Ford needs to focus on its own problem, which is North America,” he told the paper.

Graeme Roberts

Votes for and against Ford keeping Jaguar