UK union leaders at Ford Land Rover and Jaguar brands have voted to support a Tata Motors bid for the brands if Ford sells them, UK union Unite said.
Union leaders still preferred to remain part of Ford, but if a sale was decided, the workforce's best interests would be served by finding a partner with an established presence and background in manufacturing, the union said in a statement dated Wednesday
Union backing could be relevant for the politically sensitive deal, as Ford would remain a major employer in the UK even after it sells the two luxury brands, in which it may also remain a minority partner.
Sources familiar with the matter earlier this month told Reuters the three bidders left on a shortlist are Tata Motors, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd and buyout firm partner Apollo, and JP Morgan-backed One Equity Partners.
The bidders have been meeting unions and the UK government in past weeks, sources familiar with the matter said.
The statement followed presentations to union representatives by Tata, Mahindra and One Equity Partners.
Bidders spoke to the unions about their plans, including possible future offshoring of jobs or other functions now based in the UK, the sources familiar with the matter said.
Tata, also India's number three carmaker, said it is committed to the two brands as a long-term investment and endorsed their current management, the Financial Times said, citing a person familiar with the presentation.
A spokesman for Tata Motors, India's top vehicle maker, declined comment on the reports. A spokesman for Mahindra also would not comment.
Ford has been exploring a sale of Jaguar and Land Rover, which Merrill Lynch values at up to $1.5 billion, since June and said it expects to close a deal by early next year at the latest.
A Wall Street Journal Web site report, citing an unnamed labor official, said union representatives see Tata as the only bidder with enough money, clout and experience to manage the brands successfully.
A U.S. based representative for Ford was not immediately available for comment.
Doubts whether the Indian firms can successfully pull off the deal have been weighing on their share prices.
(Reporting by Rina Chandran in Mumbai and Mathieu Robbins in London; Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Kevin Krolicki in Detroit; editing by Paul Bolding)