Ford Puts Aston Martin Up For Auction
Ford Motor put Aston Martin up for auction on Thursday as the troubled US carmaker began dismantling its stable of British luxury brands in the face of deep losses in its home market.

Ford has appointed an investment bank to handle the sale of the famous brand, for which it is understood to have penciled in a price of more than $2bn – far higher than the value put on it by financial analysts. It is already in early talks with "interested parties", Ford said, although it could retain a minority stake.

The sale comes as Ford is considering which other brands it should sell to fund restructuring and reduce losses at Premier Automotive Group, its luxury car unit, which lost $162m in the second quarter. The luxury division was supposed to break even this year after losing $100m last year but Ford warned in July that it would again make a loss.

Bill Ford, group chairman and chief executive, said Aston – based in the English midlands – was the "logical" choice for a sale because it had its own dealer network and factories. But he said no decision had been made on whether to sell Aston sister brands Jaguar, Land Rover or Volvo.

Ford has been carrying out a strategic review after losing $1.3bn in the first half of this year, and is also drawing up a new recovery plan to replace the one started in January. Last month it hired Kenneth Leet, a former Goldman Sachs banker, to help consider strategic options.

Aston Martin, famous for sports cars driven by James Bond in films such as Goldfinger and Thunderball never made a profit until 2005, Ulrich Bez, chief executive, said this year. Ford took a controlling stake in 1987 and sales have increased from 46 units in 1992 to 4,500 last year.

Ford has been in talks for more than a month with Jac Nasser, its former chief executive and now a partner at One Equity, the private equity arm of JPMorgan. Mr Nasser has discussed several options for buying premium brands from Ford but talks are at an early stage, according to people familiar with the situation.

Sir Anthony Bamford, owner of JCB, the UK earth-moving equipment company, said last week he would like to buy Jaguar but yesterday said he had no interest in Aston Martin. BMW also said it was not interested.

Philippe Houchois, motor analyst at JPMorgan, estimated Aston's value at about €400m ($510m) and said the future of the lossmaking Jaguar name was more important.

Valuation of Aston is difficult because its most recent published results were for 2004, when it made a loss of £8.5m.

British limousine maker Bentley was sold to Volkswagen for £430m in 1998, while Fiat recently put a valuation of €5bn on its Ferrari sports car unit, which sold about 5,500 cars last year.