Former Opel chief Carl-Peter Forster unlikely to be new head of Jaguar Land Rover
The search is on for the new head of Jaguar Land Rover – but industry sources are adamant it won’t be the former General Motors Europe boss who has been linked by many to the role.
Following the departure of David Smith as the car-maker’s chief executive and the announcement that Tata Motors boss Ravi Kant will take over the day-to-day running of the company in the short term, the automotive industry has been awash with speculation over who will take the reins at the Midland luxury marque on a permanent basis.
Many have singled out former Vauxhall and Opel boss Carl-Peter Forster as the foremost candidate for the leading role at the firm which has seen something of a resurgence in sales and profits in the last few months.
But it is understood that although Mr Forster is set to take on a senior role with Tata, it won’t be the hands-on management of Jaguar Land Rover.
An industry insider said: “There will be an announcement soon about David Smith’s replacement but it won’t be Forster.
“His will very much be a Tata appointment and his role will be far wider than just JLR.
“Tata are not in the business of making rash decisions and this will all have been thought out very carefully.”
Speculation on Mr Forster joining JLR was prompted by his departure from GM Europe, which owns Opel in Germany and Vauxhall in the UK, last November.
But a Tata UK spokesman said he was not aware of any plans for Mr Forster to join the company and Jaguar Land Rover said it could not comment on the speculation.
Mr Smith’s departure comes as JLR’s thousands of Midland workers await a decision which will see either its Solihull or Castle Bromwich plant closed as part of cost-cutting measures, and at time when JLR management is embroiled in a dispute with the unions over pay and conditions.
Talks have broken down between the two parties, although Tata have said this was not linked to Mr Smith’s exit from the firm.
Insiders believe Mr Smith’s departure was instead linked to the protracted wrangling between the Government and JLR last year over a commercially-rated loan to replace the normal credit flows that the carmaker’s banks no longer provided.
Sources say Mr Smith may have taken the wrap for the bruised pride of JLR’s Indian owners after Lord Mandelson sought to impose a government board member and have a say in policy – demands that went too far for Tata, causing talks to founder as a result.
JLR subsequently managed to raise substantial sums of money privately after credit markets began to unfreeze.
Sources also claim that JLR management had in the past been cushioned by big parents like Ford and BMW, with losses incurred in the West Midlands mopped up in Detroit or Munich.
But when the firm was bought by Tata, there was no protective layer above it, and while the company believed that Mr Smith had done a good job in stabilising the business, it was looking for a new face to take the company through the challenges ahead.
Tata, which bought JLR from Ford in June 2008, spent months negotiating with the UK government over an aid package last year to help restore liquidity to the company, which was particularly hard hit by falling sales as the recession bit.
Talks focused on a £500 million commercial loan and a guarantee for a £340 million European Investment Bank loan intended to finance the next generation of cars.
But Tata subsequently raised nearly £500 million on the world’s stock markets while JLR negotiated an advance of £175 million from the State Bank of India plus a further £500 million funding package from Standard Chartered Bank, Bank of Baroda and Bank of Ireland subsidiary Burdale Financial.