Executives at Jaguar Land Rover owner Tata Motors have held talks with Aston Martin as the supercar firm looks set to be taken over.
A high-level industry source has told the Birmingham Post that Tata is one of several potential buyers for Gaydon-based Aston Martin, alongside the likes of Toyota and Mahindra & Mahindra.
Speculation has been rife for more than a year that the Warwickshire firm is on the market but Aston Martin has continually scotched rumours and again this week claimed the company was “not for sale”.
But a flurry of reports have emerged in both financial and automotive media suggesting Kuwaiti firm Investment Dar, which owns 64 per cent of Aston Martin, wants to off-load its investment and has appointed Rothschild to help find a buyer.
A source close to Tata told the Post that high level talks had taken place with Aston Martin executives.
He said “All sorts of companies are interested in potentially buying it and a deal is likely to happen in a few weeks.
“Supposedly they have had many offers. The names linked with them included Mahindra & Mahindra and there have also been some talks with Tata.
“A number of Chinese companies are interested as well.
“The Kuwaiti owners are on a buyer push and a sale is going to happen. It’s just a question of when.”
Investment Dar were the major investor in the group that bought Aston Martin and the consortium is believed to be keen to off-load its 64 per cent stake for around £500 million.
Some reports suggested Toyota was leading the pack and said the firm had already conducted due diligence on the books at Aston Martin, which was bought by Investment Dar, David Richards, John Sinders and Kuwait-based Adeem Investment from Ford in 2007 for £479 million
The Japanese car-maker is no stranger to the Gaydon-based firm having worked with it to produce its Cygnet city car – an upmarket version of the Toyota iQ.
However, reports have also indicated Indian firm Mahindra & Mahindra is in the running to land Aston, interest which could see it involved in a sub-continental showdown with fellow Indian powerhouse Tata Motors.
But while the source said talks have taken place, Tata is not believed to be the front-runner.
With Jaguar Land Rover’s design and engineering centre a neighbour to Aston in Gaydon and Jaguar, Land Rover and Aston all having been part of Ford’s Premier Automotive Group when the US car maker owned all three, it would seem a natural fit.
Automotive expert David Bailey, Professor of International Business Strategy and Economics at Coventry University Business School said: “In terms of who would strategically be the best fit, Tata would be ideal in terms of a tie-up with Jaguar Land Rover. My preference would be for Tata and it would make for a powerful premium group of companies they could share technology across.”
Prof Bailey suggested Aston, which posted a pre-tax loss of £4.3 million last year, was in some ways looking isolated and would benefit from the opportunities from being part of a larger group and could share components and platforms, particular between it and Jaguar.
The company returned production of its Rapide vehicle from Austria to Gaydon earlier this year, incurring a £2.8 million hit in the process.
He said: “They do need a big owner. Aston Martin are going to struggle with the large costs of developing new models and either need a new partner or a new owner. I think it is a fantastic opportunity. This is still one of the coolest brands around and you could still do a lot with it.”
Aston Martin revealed significant growth in sales to the crucial Asian market in 2011, despite slipping into the red, after seeing sales to Asia increase by 48.5 per cent in 2011, to £66 million
Prof Bailey added that he was not surprised by the Kuwaitis wanting to get out.
“I always thought it would be a temporary stake, a private equity stake rather than long term investment,” he said.
“They bought it and probably thought they could sell it at a higher price. But we have had a huge downturn since then and they may well have decided to offload it and recover the costs.”
A spokeswoman for Aston Martin said: “Aston Martin is not for sale. We have nothing further to add to these rumours.”