As Ford prepares to announce the sale of Land Rover and Jaguar, automotive correspondent John Cranage takes a look under the bonnet of both businesses.
One of the ironies of the arguments that have raged since Ford announced it was selling Jaguar and Land Rover is that they are both – along with Mini – survivors of that dreadful car crash called British Leyland.
That they have survived to become treasured "icons" of the West Midland motor manufacturing industry is largely due to the investment that Ford has pumped into both marques, despite siren voices telling Detroit that they were both lost causes.
Jaguar, because of its chronic inability to turn its expertise at building high quality, luxury cars into profit: Land Rover because of the iffy build quality of some of the models coming out of Lode Lane in recent years.
Just at the point when Ford is finalising a deal to sell them both to Tata Motors of India, both businesses seem to be in good shape.
Land Rover has largely met the demands made by Ford managers in Detroit and Europe in terms of improving quality and the efficiency of its main plant in Solihull.
The company has had three years of record sales thanks to the global appeal of its five models, Defender, Discovery, Freelander, Range Rover and Range Rover Sport, and with new markets opening up across the world 2008 should be little different.
So far as Jaguar goes, the company seems to have put behind it the pain of having to close its historic Browns Lane site in Coventry and the 1,000 or so layoffs that went with it.
Production has been consolidated at the Castle Bromwich plant on the outskirts of Birmingham, with one model, the entry-level, or "Baby Jag", X-Type built at Ford’s rehabilitated Halewood plant on Merseyside alongside the Land Rover Freelander.
Jaguar’s biggest problem has been that it has haemorrhaged money and been a huge drain on the resources of Ford’s about-to-be dismantled Premier Automotive Group of luxury European brands.
Mostly that has been because of factors beyond the company’s control, such as the strong pound/weak dollar combination that has made its cars so expensive in the important US market, and the fierce competition within the relatively low volume/high overhead luxury car segment where it competes with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Lexus.
Other problems, however, have been of Jaguar’s own making – at least of its senior Ford group executives.
The decision to try to move the brand into the higher volume segment of the market with the X-Type – regarded by some critics as nothing more than a badge-engineered Mondeo – has not been anywhere near as successful as the marketing men said it would be.
The quintessential "Britishness" of the brand was diluted by X-Type, the critics said.
An upgraded version of X-Type is due out soon but Jaguar has decided to stop trying to sell the car to Americans.
Ironically, though, volumes are now being maintained by the car’s appeal to "aspirational" buyers in emerging markets, especially Russia.
Jaguar also over-estimated the strength of nostalgia when it comes to selling cars.
The retro-styled S-Type, made to make you think of the classic Mk II saloon of the 1960s re-popularised by the Inspector Morse TV series, simple didn’t cut the mustard with today’s car buyers.
Its replacement, the XF, looks to be a much better prospect and Jaguar had nearly 20,000 advance orders by the time the car went on sale on March 1.
Ford refuses to publish the financial results of its individual business units and details of Jaguar’s annual multi-million pound losses have to be winkled out of the files at Companies House.
Privately, though, sources within the company say the unit is now close to break-even, if not surplus.
This is a result of its largely unpublicised shift of strategy that has seen the end of the pursuit of volume in favour of an emphasis on selling higher specification, more profitable, cars to wealthier customers who happily pay thousands of pounds over the list price for added luxuries.
All in all, it looks (assuming the deal is ultimately concluded) that Tata is getting a bargain for its money.
A bargain that some commentators say should never have been on the table.
Writing in Car magazine recently, Gavin Green, a respected motoring journalist, took apart the argument that Ford had no option – given the dire state of its business overall – but to sell Jaguar and Land Rover.
Once the deal was signed, he said: "There will be big smiles all round – those smiles will be big and genuine.
"Apart from the grins of the Ford bosses. They know they’re letting a couple of jewels – which Ford has painstakingly transformed – slip through their fingers.
"They know that if they’d managed their own operations better, especially in North America, there would be no need to sell the family silver."