Jaguar last night fended off a fresh wave of speculation over its future with Ford.

It was claimed in America that Ford, which has suffered the ignomy of being overtaken by Toyota as the second biggest seller in its home market, was bringing in a high powered former investment banker to beef up its restruc-turing programme aimed at stemming continuing financial losses and combating falling sales.

Kenneth Leet, who previously worked for Goldman Sachs and Bank of America, will be reviewing poorly performing units, including Jaguar, The Wall Street Journal claimed without citing sources.

Mr Leet's appointment, which had not been confirmed by Ford at the time of writing last night, followed an unexp ected $123 million (£66 million) lurch back into the red by the group in the second quarter.

The Journal specifically said that Mr Leet would be examing Jaguar, which Ford bought for £1.6 billion in 1989 and which since has absorbed billions of pounds more in refinancing and development costs.

The newspaper also claimed that Mr Leet would be looking at potential asset sales or alliances with other companies - suggestions that Ford would neither confirm nor deny.

Jaguar, which is part of Ford's Premier Automotive Group stable of luxury European brands along with Land Rover, Aston Martin and Volvo, has consistently lost money.

Rumours that Ford is look-ing to dump the brand have been rife in automotive industry circles in the UK for some time.

Specualtion has Renault emerging as a potential buyer.

But those rumours have been consistently and firmly denied by Ford, with Lewis Booth, the group's most senior European executive, stating in March "it's not an option".

Now they have resurfaced just as Jaguar - which has been badly hit by increasingly stiff competition in the luxury car market and adverse currency factors in the important US market - shows signs of clawing its way back.

It has a winner in the shape of the new XK sports car; the new 2.7 litre diesel powered XJ saloon is making inroads into the executive diesel car market, the X-Type is winning new customers in emerging markets such as Russia, and a new S-Type saloon, the development costs for which have recently been signed off by Ford, is on the stocks.

Responding to the Journal report, Jaguar spokesman Don Hume said: "As far as Jaguar is concerned there is no change in our situation.

"Clearly there is a lot of speculation but the recovery plan that we announced in 2004 is making progress and is on track.

"We are turning the business around. The XK has been incredibly successful and is almost sold out this year.

"We always said that our recovery would be product-led and the XK is proof of that. There are others to come."

Ford in America is in the throes of axing 30,000 manufacturing jobs and shutting no fewer than 14 factories.

Like its Detroit rival, the Blue Oval company has been hit by massive pension and healthcare costs just when soaring petrol prices are driving customers away from its highly profitable but gasguzzling SUVs and trucks.

Lighter, more fuel-efficient models produced by overseas rivals such as Toyota, Honda and, ironically, Land Rover have made big inroads into the US market.

The trend was underlined by July's sales figures which showed Toyota overtook Ford for the first time to become the second biggest seller while Honda overtook Chrysler, the smallest of the Detroit "Big Three".

Ford sales slumped 34.2 per cent to 241,339 while Jaguar ended July with sales 15 per cent down at 1,997 even though XK almost doubled.

Land Rover is losing impetus after the new Range Rover Sport and Discovery 3 helped record sales in 2005.

The Solihull manufacturer dipped by 31 per cent to sales of 3,524 in the US last month.

Jaguar also said yesterday it was looking at alternative tyre suppliers in the event of a threatened strike at Pirelli materialising.