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Ford sells stake in Aston Martin to private investors

DETROIT — Ford Motor Co. is selling a controlling stake in Aston Martin, creator of exotic $100,000-plus sports cars made famous in James Bond movies.
    Aston Martin now will be run by a consortium of investors, including racing mogul David Richards, car collector John Sinders and the Kuwaiti companies Investment Dar and Adeem Investment Co.
    Ford officials announced the sale Monday at Aston Martin’s headquarters in Gaydon, England. Ford will receive $848 million and retain a $77 million stake in the company. The companies placed the total value of the deal at $925 million.
    Dearborn-based Ford, which lost $12.7 billion last year and expects red ink to continue until 2009, put Aston Martin up for sale last August. It had acquired control of the brand two decades ago and owned it outright since 1994.
    Sales dipped to a few dozen in 1992 but climbed to about 7,000 last year. You can get a new Aston Martin for about $110,000 but the price can run as high as $270,000, according to Beau Boeckmann, vice president of Galpin Motors in North Hills, Calif., one of Aston Martin’s top dealers.
    Ford Chief Executive Alan Mulally said the sale supports the company’s turnaround plan, which involves cutting factory capacity and rolling out new cars and trucks at a faster pace.
    ‘‘From Aston Martin’s point of view, the sale will provide access to additional capital, which will allow Aston Martin to continue the growth it has experienced under Ford’s stewardship,’’ Mulally said in a statement.
    Richards is founder and chairman of Prodrive, a British racing and automotive technology company that runs Aston Martin’s international sports car racing team. Sinders, from Houston and Dubai, is an Aston Martin collector and racing backer, while Investment Dar and Adeem Investment are international companies based in Kuwait, Ford said.
    Richards is heading the consortium and has a personal stake in Aston Martin, although he would not say how much he has invested. He will join Aston Martin’s board as nonexecutive chairman and will be involved in the strategic direction of the business, he said Monday in an interview with The Associated Press.
    Aston Martin Chief Executive Ulrich Bez will continue to lead the company’s management team, Aston Martin said.
    The company, which has been profitable under Ford, will have only modest growth in coming years, but will remain true to its roots as an iconic British luxury sports car, Richards said.
    Ford will continue to provide safety, emissions and other technology to Aston Martin, he said.
    ‘‘It’s a close working relationship that’s not just being cut off tomorrow,’’ he told the AP.
    The investors do not want to reveal how much each will own in the company, said Ford spokesman John Gardner. The deal is expected to close in the second quarter.
    Gregg Lemos-Stein, a credit analyst for Standard & Poor’s in New York, said the sale makes sense to Ford even though the cash it brings is a small amount considering the company expects to burn $17 billion during the next three years.
    ‘‘It amounts to only a month or two of that,’’ Lemos-Stein said.
    Ford mortgaged its factories, brand names and other items to secure a $23.4 billion line of credit to fund its restructuring plan and cover losses expected until 2009. The company had $34 billion at the end of last year to help pay the bills, Lemos-Stein said.
    Aston Martin, while profitable, didn’t fit into Ford’s long-term survival plan for cost savings from developing multiple models worldwide on the same underpinnings, Lemos-Stein said.
    ‘‘The sale of Aston Martin makes sense because Aston Martin does not share much in terms of platforms or engineering with the other Ford assets,’’ he said.
    Founded in 1914 by Lionel Martin and Robert Bamford, Aston Martin turned out its first car in 1915. Ford bought a controlling stake in Aston Martin in 1987 and acquired full ownership in 1994.
    Annual production dipped as low as just 46 cars in 1992. But the brand has enjoyed a resurgence this decade — a record 7,000 Aston Martins were sold worldwide last year and a similar number are expected to be purchased in 2007.
    The DB9 and V8 Vantage models are made at Gaydon and later this year a DBS model will go into production at the Warwickshire plant, where 1,600 staff are employed.
    Actor Daniel Craig drove the DBS in ‘‘Casino Royale’’ and the first 007 — Sean Connery — drove an Aston Martin DB5 in the 1964 Bond movie ‘‘Goldfinger.’’
    Versions of the car also appeared in a number of other 007 films, including ‘‘Thunderball,’’ ‘‘The Living Daylights,’’ ‘‘Goldeneye’’ and ‘‘Die Another Day.’’
    Ford stock fell 11 cents to close at $7.92 on the New York Stock Exchange. Its shares have traded in a 52-week range of $6.06 to $9.48.
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    On the Net:
    Ford Motor Co.: http://www.ford.com

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