EMERGING MARKETS ANALYSIS: There’s more to Tata’s Jaguar-Land Rover deal than meets the eye

By Mark Bursa | 2 April 2008

Tata hasn't just won control of Jaguar and Land-Rover - it's got the rights to a couple of other significant British brands too. Mark Bursa reports

It seems Tata has acquired more than just Jaguar and Land-Rover brands. Included in the deal are the rights to the Rover brand and, amazingly, the right to use Daimler as a car brand.

It looked like a deal had been done last September between Ford and Daimler AG to transfer the Daimler car brand to the German automaker. But according to Ford sources, the deal simply allowed Daimler AG "to use the name alone or in combination with other words as the title of a trading company, a trade name or a corporate name".

"The extended usage agreement does not, however, affect either company's existing right to use the Daimler name for a product." In other words, Daimler AG could not use the name, but Ford could. And did. Quietly, a Daimler version of the Jaguar XJ was slipped back into the range in 2006. Called the Daimler Super Eight, it's a high-spec, long-wheelbase XJ, complete with classic Daimler fluted radiator grille and 'D' logos. And you can order one from your local Jaguar dealer in many Asian and European markets - including Germany. Bet you didn't even know it existed.

Now the Daimler brand, along with another defunct British luxury nameplate, Lanchester, has passed into Tata's ownership. The move poses an interesting challenge for Ratan Tata. Will he persevere with Daimler as a brand, or does re-establishing Jaguar pose enough of a challenge? How much of his USD2.3bn investment in acquiring the Jaguar and Land-Rover brands could be recouped through selling the Daimler car brand back to Daimler AG?

On the other hand, Tata might see potential to turn Daimler into a super-luxury brand to challenge Rolls Royce and, in a supreme irony, Daimler AG's Maybach - especially in Asia.

Certainly Ford was looking in this direction when it relaunched the Daimler car brand. Stephen Perrin, global marketing director, Jaguar Cars, said at the time: "We have a large following in countries such as Thailand, Malaysia and Japan. Just as in Great Britain, many royal families and political dignitaries in the Far East have traditionally used Daimlers and we expect this new model to appeal to them in much the same way as the previous generation did. We know there is latent demand out there and will sell them on an individual basis to Daimler enthusiasts looking for renowned British engineering and craftsmanship tailored to a name that is as distinguished as our customer base itself."

Rover, meanwhile, may have a more immediate future. The brand only returned to the Ford fold last year, when Land-Rover exercised its right to buy it back from BMW - one of the terms of Ford's original purchase of Land-Rover from BMW in 2000. This was seen as a defensive move to stop the two Chinese suitors for MG Rover, SAIC and Nanjing, from getting their hands on the brand. Hence SAIC's risible 'Roewe' brand, and the focus on the MG brand, which was sold to Nanjing.

Tata, of course, has history with Rover. It supplied its original Tata Indica hatchback to MG Rover for sale as the ill-fated CityRover, which was heavily criticised for its poor interior finish and basic specification. Very few were sold, and the enterprise was swiftly forgotten.

Now Tata has a new, heavily revised Indica, with fit and finish significantly improved over the original. And at the Geneva Show Ratan Tata said he "hoped this car will be available in Europe in the future". Surely the Rover brand, in spite of the CityRover episode, must be a better bet to build a small-car presence in Europe, rather than trying to establish Tata from scratch as a brand? The only Tatas sold in Europe have been basic pick-ups and SUVs, though the brand has received enormous publicity recently following the launch of the ultra-cheap, ultra-small Tata Nano Indian 'people's car'.

Despite the collapse, there is still some residual good feeling for Rover, especially among older customers. Providing the quality, specification and pricing was right, there must be strong potential profits from selling Indian-made Rovers in Europe - in the same way that Renault does well with Romanian-made Dacias. Rover would sit somewhere close to Skoda under this scenario. Not a sporty brand, and not a premium brand - but a well-known one, that clearly is not a budget brand either. Using Rover could also apply a veneer of quality to any future plan to sell the Nano in Europe too.

A feature of Tata's business expansion has been its careful husbandry of the brands it has acquired. Tata takes a good look at a brand and its management before making sweeping changes. Its takeovers of Anglo-Dutch steelmaker Corus, and British tea brand Tetley, are seen as exemplary, with high workforce approval. The same appears to be true with JLR - even the notoriously bolshy trade unions have made approving noises.

They have no reason to moan - for the moment at least. Industry observers, at first fearful of an Indian company taking stewardship of classic British luxury brands, are starting to realise that the Tata takeover is a good one. After all, the brands have simply passed from an American company in financial difficulties to an Indian one with a strong balance sheet. They're no more or less English than they were last year - but under Tata, there will be less interference from American marketing men than there was under Ford.

For most of its tenure of Jaguar, Ford wasn't a particularly good steward of the brand. It dawdled around with product, taking an inordinate amount of time to renew core products such as the XJ, while instead expanding the range downmarket with wildly over-optimistic targets. The S-Type was compromised by its US-developed platform and interference from US marketing men, creating a car that on launch didn't have the requisite quality or handling. Or diesel engines, so important for Europe. The X-Type was worse - a reworked Mondeo that was woefully uncompetitive against market dominators such as the BMW 3-series or Audi A4.

Ford wanted Jaguar to be like BMW - but there was no way it was ever going to hit those volumes. A better target would have been Porsche in terms of volume and unit profitability. Now that will actually require growth - Jaguar only sold 54,000 cars last year. Jaguar needs the "Tetley tea treatment" - leave its managers and designers to get on with doing what they're doing - making the right kind of cars without interference

Jag's 2008 sales should receive a major spike thanks to the new XF, but Tata should remain cautious about volume objectives. Some analysts say 100,000 is achievable - but Ratan Tata is a wily old businessman, and he'll be fully aware of the old adage about volume being vanity and profits being sanity.

Jaguar is still not in the black - it could be by 2009, by which time a radically reshaped XJ will be available and the X-Type will be on the way out, its capacity at Halewood better used for the exciting Land-Rover LR1 compact SUV.

Halewood was refurbished extensively by Ford in the past decade, originally to build the X-Type. But gradually, it has become a Land-Rover plant, making the Freelander/LR2, and that transformation that will be complete by the end of the decade when LR1 comes on stream. Ratan Tata might by then decide he has one too many UK plants. The one at the greatest risk must surely be Solihull. This plant builds the large Land-Rover Defender, Discovery and Range-Rover models - but there must be a case for considering whether these could be built at Jaguar's main Castle Bromwich plant instead.

Production of the basic Defender models could be transferred to India, where Tata already has some expertise in making rugged 4x4s such as the Tata Safari. Closing Solihull would mean some job losses, but a fair proportion of the workforce could be transferred to Castle Bromwich, only around 10km away. The unions might not be so approving of Tata if this happens - but surely Ford would have eventually taken the scalpel to JLR again if it hadn't sold the business?

At the Geneva Show last month, Ratan Tata laid his cards on the table: "We are serious about making a contribution to the car industry on a global basis," he said. Now he's got his chance.

Mark 'Coolbear' Bursa