Page last updated at 00:12 GMT, Thursday, 6 December 2007

Could India make Jaguar a success?

By Supriya Menon
India Business Report, BBC World, Mumbai

Traffic in Delhi
India is one of the fastest-growing markets in the world
Carlos Ghosn, chief executive of alliance partners Renault and Nissan

Weaving nimbly in and out of the traffic like seasoned circus performers, India's motorcyclists are set to be displaced by the country's fast-growing car fleet.

India's car industry is booming, with passenger car production set to treble from about one million in 2003-2004 to more than three million by 2015, according to government estimates.

And as the cars increasingly jostle for space with rickety buses and decrepit trucks on the country's crowded roads, the value of the industry is set to rise from some $30bn (15bn) to almost $150bn.

Such optimistic growth predictions in their home market have enabled some of India's leading automotive groups to look beyond the country's borders for growth opportunities.

Two of them are eager to acquire the British luxury marques Jaguar and Land Rover, which have been valued at $1.5bn by Merrill Lynch and have been put up for sale by parent company Ford Motor. A deal could propel the winner onto the global automotive stage.

"We will probably have something to announce by the end of this year, toward the first part of next year," says Ford Motor's chief executive, Alan Mulally.

Rival bidders

Leading the race to acquire the two marques is one of India's oldest and strongest brands, Tata Group, whose flagship subsidiary Tata Motors is India's largest car and commercial vehicle maker, as well as the world's second-largest manufacturer of medium and heavy buses.

The Land Rover plant in Solihull
Land Rover's top-end technology is attractive to Indian car makers

Crucially, Tata has already made inroads into the global markets. It is working with Italian car maker Fiat, making some of its models in India, and it has set up a major European vehicle development centre at Warwick University, just a few miles from where Jaguar and Land Rover design their cars.

Hot on Tata's heels is Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), which made its name producing tractors and army trucks - initially assembling Jeep kits imported from America.

M&M, which is part of the Mahindra Group, has since moved into the passenger car market. Earlier this year it joined forces with the alliance partners Renault and Nissan to produce budget cars designed especially for developing countries.

M&M, which has linked up with private equity firm Apollo, is already the leading producer of sports utility vehicles in India.

Acquiring Land Rover would enable it to upgrade its existing vehicles with technologies developed by the British 4x4-maker. M&M would not want to keep Jaguar, which would instead be taken on and developed separately by Apollo.

Made in India

An Indian buyer for Jaguar-Land Rover would not necessarily mean that production of the British marques would be shifted to India.

India's car industry
The value of India's automotive industry is set to double by 2010, then double again
Fresh investment of $35-40bn by 2016 should ensure this

However, an Indian assembly plant for cars imported as kits would make sense if the cars were to be sold in the domestic market, which is shielded by import duties totalling 122%.

In essence, local assembly would enable either Tata or M&M to more than halve the price of Jaguar and Land Rover models in India.

Indian parts makers could also stand to gain if Tata or M&M were to take over the marques, though only those able to compete on both price and quality.

Exporting cars

But the big question is whether or not Indian ownership will damage the images of Jaguar and Land Rover.

Industry experts say Jaguar customers would want the Big Cat to be produced in Britain and would be loath to accept Indian exports.

Buyers of Land Rover's luxury models, such as Range Rover and the Discovery 3, would be similarly sceptical.

But Land Rover also supplies armies and aid agencies who might be happy to continue buying the vehicles even if they were made in India, as long as their quality was not compromised following a move of production, industry analysts say.

Either way, industry observers agree that the only way to make Jaguar and Land Rover succeed is to invest heavily in the marques. Whoever buys them will need big pockets.

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