BMW looks favourite to buy £400m Rolls-Royce
ROLLS-ROYCE, the last major independent British carmaker, is set to surrender to foreign ownership with BMW emerging as favourite to buy the luxury manufacturer from defence conglomerate Vickers.
The German company, which already owns Rover, will probably be allowed a clear path to spend £400m on the world famous car name unless there is a surprise bid waiting in the wings.
That could yet come from Prince al-Waleed, nephew of the king of Saudi Arabia and who has a personal fortune worth an estimated £10bn, who was last night calling for details of the sale.
Prince al-Waleed owns several Rolls-Royces and has built a reputation as an entrepreneur who can turn around loss-making businesses, with stakes in Euro-Disney, the American airline TWA and the Canary Wharf development in London's Docklands.
RIGHT OF VETO
A spokesman for the 40-year-old prince said he would be ``proud and honoured'' to be associated with a company with the history and fame of Rolls-Royce.
Intriguingly, the last word on who wins the business might lie outside Vickers. Rights to the Rolls-Royce name remain with Rolls-Royce plc, the aero engine manufacturer, which was split from the car division when the joint business went bankrupt in 1973.
A statement yesterday indicated that the the public company would have the right of veto if it did not think the buyer worthy of the Rolls-Royce name.
It said: ``Rolls-Royce plc owns the Rolls-Royce name and marques, which are licensed to Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited. In any sale or disposal of Rolls-Royce Motor Cars Limited, Rolls-Royce plc would be involved in the process to ensure that our rights and interests in the name and marques are satisfactorily protected.''
There seems little chance of protest from enthusiasts or even union leaders, now used to seeing British companies sold to foreign ownership since Aston Martin and Jaguar fell to Ford of the US and Rover to BMW over the past decade.
BMW must remain favourite to win, having targeted Rolls-Royce for several years and with one of the best reputations for engineering excellence in the world.
The Germans are already developing a new V12 engine for Rolls-Royce which will go into a range of new limousines and sporting Bentley saloons at the turn of the century, a fact which will have already deterred at least one other potential buyer, Mercedes-Benz.
Mercedes last night ruled out a bid, as did Ford and Fiat, both of which had been touted as possible candidates in the auction of one of Britain's most famous brand names.
Vickers, which bought Rolls-Royce in 1980, said the time was right for sale with the carmaker ``in good shape'', sales revived, new models on the way and ``no question'' of redundancies among the 2,400 workforce at the Crewe factory in the north of England.
BMW has the resources to keep Rolls-Royce in business while the luxury British limousines would top off a range of German models, of which even the most luxurious stops £43,000 short of the £118,000 starting price of a Rolls-Royce. ( The Times, London)