Jaguar and Land Rover staff will begin returning to work today expecting to soon hear news of who will buy the famous Midland carmakers.

Indian industrial group Tata had been expected to be named the preferred bidder for the luxury marques - which employ 13,500 in the Midlands - just before Christmas.

But parent company Ford delayed an announcement in order to tell the workers itself and also iron out any final problems.

Despite this Tata is set to get the nod after edging out rival Indian manufacturer Mahindra and Mahindra and US private equity group One Equity Partners.

A delegation from Tata was in the UK last month to close the negotiations, and sources have claimed both they and Ford have already celebrated clinching a deal.

The acquisition is thought to be close to £1 billion, although it is not known whether Ford will keep a stake in Jaguar-Land Rover.

All three bidders had committed themselves to continuing with three production sites - including Jaguar's Castle Bromwich plant in Birmingham and Land Rover at Lode Lane in Solihull.

But Tata is thought to have won through because of its size and industrial background reassured Ford that it would not lift and shift production and was committed to a long term future for the companies.

The American carmaker, which is selling Jaguar and Land Rover as it battles $12.7 billion losses last year, is keen avoid damaging its image in UK by any large scale job losses as it pulls out.

One industry expert, who asked not to be named, said: "The sooner that Tata is named the preferred bidder the better.

"Land Rover has some great vehicles at the moment and is on course to achieve record sales in 2007, while Jaguar has just launched the XF which has had rave reviews.

"These cars are fantastic, but the companies cannot stand still. "They need to get the funding to start working on the next generation of vehicles and move on under new ownership." ..