NEW YORK TIMES
By JOHN HOLUSHA
The General Motors Corporation said yesterday that it might buy a minority interest in Jaguar P.L.C. and was discussing manufacturing and marketing joint ventures with the British auto maker.
The announcement pits G.M. against the Ford Motor Company, which has been buying Jaguar’s stock and has signaled that it might seek control of the company. Jaguar has said the Ford offer is unwelcome.
G.M. said the negotiations with Jaguar ”have been conducted for several months.”
Ford’s announcement last month that it would buy up to 15 percent of Jaguar had been widely interpreted as a pre-emptive strike to block an impending deal with G.M. Last week, the Federal Trade Commission said it had no antitrust objections to Ford’s plan. Siding With Management
In its statement yesterday, G.M. took pains to align itself with Jaguar’s management.
”G.M. is discussing the possibility of acquiring a minority interest in Jaguar P.L.C. to assist Jaguar in remaining an independent British-owned automobile manufacturer,” the company said.
In London, Jaguar issued a similar statement. The announcement came after trading ended on the London Stock Exchange, where Jaguar’s shares closed at $10.82, down 73 cents. In the United States, the American depository receipts fell $1, to $10.875. Jaguar was the most-active over-the-counter issue yesterday, with 3.4 million shares traded.
Ford responded several hours later, saying the G.M. announcement did not change its intentions.
”When Ford initially announced its intention to acquire up to 15 percent of Jaguar, it outlined the advantages that were possible in a Ford-Jaguar association,” the company said. ”We feel as strongly about these advantages today as we did last month and as we did when we first met with Sir John Egan in mid-1988.” Sir John is the chairman of Jaguar. Ford Sees Benefits
Ford said its large presence in Britain would benefit Jaguar. ”It is our belief that if Jaguar’s skills were combined with Ford’s resources, it would lead to higher manufacturing volumes, greater sales in worldwide markets and a broader lineup of British-designed, engineered and manufactured luxury cars,” Ford said.
Jaguar is far smaller than the Detroit automotive giants. Last year it produced a little more than 50,000 cars, compared with about six million cars and trucks for Ford and eight million for G.M.
Financial problems have pinched Jaguar’s ability to broaden its product lineup, which now consists of three models. The company reported an operating loss of $4.5 million in the first half of the year.
Jaguar was owned by the British Government until it was sold to the public in 1984. Under the terms of that transaction, no investor may buy more than 15 percent of its stock until the end of 1990. Ford has left open the possibility of bidding for control after 1991.
Both Ford and G.M. have been buying small but well-known European auto makers in the last few years to add prestigious names to their own lineups and gain access to technology. G.M. already owns Group Lotus in Britain and has used the unit to help develop a high-performance engine for its Corvette sports car and active suspensions for other models.
Ford owns Aston Martin, another low-volume maker of high-priced, high-performance cars, and sought unsuccessfully to buy Alfa Romeo, an Italian company, two years ago.
Despite its financial frailty and a reputation for erratic quality, the Jaguar name could add luster to the model lineups of either Ford or G.M. Jaguar has long sought to convey the image of the British upper class, with polished wooden dashboards, leather seats and smooth, powerful engines. The company is also associated with racing, with numerous victories at the 24-hour competition in Le Mans, France. Efforts by G.M. and Ford
Both G.M. and Ford have tried to introduce high-priced European models on their own without much success. Ford imported models made by its West German subsidiary and gave them the Merkur nameplate. G.M. has the bodies of its Cadillac Allante convertible fabricated in Italy. Neither have lived up to sales expectations.
Jaguar’s models include the XJ6 sedan, which has a 223-horsepower, six-cylinder engine. It also makes a coupe and convertible, known as the XJS models, which use a 262-horsepower V-12 engine. Jaguar’s prices start at nearly $40,000 in the United States.
Trade publications have reported that Jaguar delayed a longer version of the XJ6 sedan to concentrate on a sports car, known the F-type. The car would be a successor to the rakish E-type, which at one time was the best-known Jaguar product but was dropped in the 1970’s when the company decided to concentrate on sedans.
According to the trade reports, the F-type will have a 350-horsepower turbocharged engine.