Ford has told Volvo employees it has had “preliminary discussions with a number of interested parties” over the possible sale of the Swedish auto unit, a Ford spokesman confirmed on Thursday.

“We didn’t give an indication of the number or geographic location,” London-based John Gardiner told just-auto.

Swedish reports said interested Chinese parties include Chery Automobile, Dongfeng Motor and Chongqing Changan Automobile while the Wall Street Journal, citing two Geely informants and one Ford source, said bidders also included China’s Geely and a European investor consortium. The Ford source said there were “three or more” bidders in total.

Gardiner declined to comment on specifics, saying the process was confidential. He suggested that, though many people would interpret the development as a first official confirmation of a Volvo sale, it was a step change rather than a quantum leap and a confirmation of what was happening at present rather than a definitive point.

“We’ve been pleased with the number and quality of the parties that have come forward and expressed an interest in Volvo,” he said.

“We’re now engaged in more detailed discussions with those parties, that’s taking place at the moment.

“These discussions could lead to a sale but it’s important to stress we’ve not made any final decision at this stage and this process will still take some time to unfold.”

Bloomberg News, citing people familiar with the discussions, reported that Ford might get $1bn to $2bn for Volvo Cars, less than a third of what it paid a decade ago.

Discussions are furthest along with Geely, Bloomberg said. Geely reportedly approached Ford more than a year ago but before the US automaker was prepared to sell, the sources said. Ford was also said to have approached China’s Chery Automobile and Chongqing Changan Automobile.

Volvo made a loss of US$736m in the last three months of 2008, while Ford’s overall loss for the whole year totalled $14.6bn.

Along with fellow Swede carmaker Saab, it received SKR28bn (GBP2.3bn, $3.5bn) in loan aid from the Swedish government in December.