On this day in 2008, the Ford Motor Company announces the sale of its Jaguar and Land Rover divisions to the Tata Group, one of India’s oldest and largest business conglomerates, for some $2.3 billion–less than half of what Ford originally paid for the brands. The sale came at a time when Ford, along with much of the rest of the auto industry, was experiencing a sales slump as a result of the global economic crisis. For Tata, which earlier that year had unveiled the Nano, the world’s cheapest car, the purchase of the venerable British-based luxury brands was referred to by some observers as a “mass to class” acquisition.
Jaguar, known for its high-performance luxury autos, grew out of the Swallow Sidecar Company, which was co-founded by William Lyons (1901–1985) of Blackpool, England, in 1922, to make motorcycle sidecars. In the early 1930s, the business was renamed SS Cars Ltd., and in 1935, its first Jaguar automobile, the SS Jaguar 100, launched. Following World War II, the company changed its name again, to Jaguar Cars Ltd., in order to avoid any association with the Schutzstaffel, the Nazi paramilitary group also referred to by the initials “SS.” In 1948, the XK120, which was capable of reaching speeds of 120 mph, made its debut and helped Jaguar stake its claim as a sports car brand. By the 1950s, Jaguar was exporting its high-performance cars to America. In the early 1960s, the automaker introduced the E-type (known as the XK-E in the U.S.), a sleek two-seater with a bullet-like silhouette that was the fastest production sports car on the market at the time of its launch. The now-iconic roadster won accolades for its design and in 1996 an E-Type became part of the permanent collection of New York City’s Museum of Modern Art (just the third car to do so). In 1989, Jaguar, which had already undergone several mergers, was acquired by the Ford Motor Company for $2.5 billion.
The first Land Rover debuted in 1948 and was the brainchild of Maurice Wilks, the head designer for the British car company Rover, of which his brother Spencer Wilks was the managing director. Maurice Wilks had used an old American-made Willys-Overland Jeep to do work at his farm in England; however, the Jeep was plagued by mechanical problems and Wilks decided to design a more reliable vehicle. He intended it to be used for farm work and be more versatile than a tractor. The resulting Land Rover, known as the Series 1, had a boxy, utilitarian design, four-wheel drive and a canvas roof. Such features as passenger seat cushions, doors, a heater and spare tires were initially considered extras and cost more. The rugged Land Rover was well-received by the public and ended up being used not just for farm work, but by police forces, military organizations, aid workers in remote places and travelers on expeditions where road conditions were poor or non-existent. In 2000, Ford purchased Land Rover, which by that time had also undergone several ownership transitions, for $2.7 billion.