Prodrive founder is expected to confirm acquisition of British sports car brand today
9 March 2007

If reports from the Geneva motor show are to be believed, Aston Martin will have new owners by the end of the day. A consortium bid made up of members from the USA and Middle East and led by Prodrive rally magnate David Richards is said to be just hours from completing the deal. They're expected to announce their success at a press conference at Gaydon on Monday morning.Ford announced its plan to sell a controlling interest in its 86-year-old British sports car business at the end of August 2006. More than 30 potential suitors threw their hats into the ring during the first round of bidding, most of them investment banks and private equity groups from Britain, America and the Middle East. Back then, it was reported that firms as diverse as LVMH, the group that owns the Louis Vuitton fashion label, and Egyptian bankers Naeem Capital had leading chances to win the sale. Various bids were subsequently 'filtered out' by Ford, which was anxious not to sell the Aston brand to a group with little or no relevant experience in car-making.

Seconds out, round two

The bidding went into a second phase at the end of January, when the firm charged with running the sale, UBS, asked for the submission of revised bids. At that stage, five attempts moved forward into final consideration; one each from British equity group Doughty Hanson and Canadian component supplier Magna, and three consortium bids led respectively by Syrian-born property tycoon Simon Halabi, Australian media mogul James Packer and Prodrive founder David Richards.Richards has now emerged at the head of that final five, as Autocar understands it. His Prodrive racing outfit runs Aston Martin's Works racing team, and according to those close to the sale, the knowledge of the company gained as a result of that association has made the difference. Richards is expected to head-up Aston's new supervisory board; current Aston CEO Ulrich Bez, who is alleged to have led a bid for the brand himself, will be kept on, and as its primary component supplier, Ford will retain a minority share in the company.

The price of success

The word is that Ford wanted to raise $1 billion (£550 million) for Aston Martin; the final figure is expected to be slightly lower than that, but it is almost certainly going to be coming from Richards' bidding group. One Aston Martin source has been quoted as saying that "it's a done deal. All that remains is to cross the t's and dot the i's."Autocar's approach to Prodrive for a comment on the sale was answered with a terse "no comment," but when pressed, a spokesmen for the firm did say that he expected the sale to be completed "sooner rather than later".

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