The head of Ford's European operations said it is too soon to say if Ford would keep a stake in Jaguar and Land Rover.

But Lewis Booth, executive vice president of Ford of Europe, said a full sale is what the cash-hungry automaker wants.

He said: "We're selling the business because we need the money and we need the focus. We're not going out with the intention of keeping an equity stake."

Ford lost $12.6 billion (£6.2 billion) in 2006 and has said it expects to burn up to $16 billion (£7.9 billion) in cash before returning to profitability in 2009.

Mr Booth made no announcement about the sale of the units, but said the Dearborn carmaker has been pleased with the interest and quality of the bidders.

He said Jaguar and Land Rover probably would be sold and expects a decision late this year or early in 2008.

Ford hasn't said how much it wants for the combined units, but analysts have estimated they could be worth about $1.5 billion (£740 million).

Ford bought Jaguar in 1989 and Land Rover in 2000, joining them with Aston Martin and Volvo to form its Premier Automotive Group. Ford said last month it had completed the sale of its controlling stake in Aston Martin for $931 million (£459 million) in cash and preferred stock.

Mr Booth said that Ford expects to conclude its strategic review of the Volvo carmaker for potential sale by the end of this year.

Last month, former Ford president Sir Nick Scheele joined with New York-based Ripplewood Holdings in its bid for Jaguar and Land Rover.

His involvement pits him against Jacques Nasser, Ford chief executive from 1999 to 2001, who is leading a separate bid by JP Morgan Chase & Co's affiliate One Equity Partners.

Bob Dover, who was managing director of Land Rover and chief operating officer of Aston Martin Jaguar Land Rover between January 2002 and August 2003 is thought to be advising American private equity group TPG.

The chairman of India's Tata Group said last month his company is interested in acquiring the units.

Ratan Tata said Jaguar and Land Rover could help expand the Tata Motors unit's worldwide reach and reduce its dependence on the Indian market, which currently accounts for more than 90 per cent of its sales.

Meanwhile, Italy's Fiat is ready to lend technical support to Indian partner Tata in an eventual bid for Land Rover and Jaguar.

"If Tata is interested in Jaguar and Land Rover, we are ready to provide technical support," a Fiat spokesman said at the Frankfurt Auto Show yesterday.

The spokesman clarified a comment made earlier in the day by Fiat chief executive Sergio Marchionne during a tour of the exhibits set up by the automaker's various brands.

In response to a question about Fiat's interest in Land Rover and Jaguar through a Tata bid for them, Mr Marchionne had joked: "For completely different reasons, we are interested in both."