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Saurabh Das, Associated Press
Tata Group of Companies Chairman Ratan Tata answers questions at a press conference in New Delhi, India.

DETROIT — After spending billions of dollars on Jaguar and Land Rover, Ford Motor Co. gave up on the storied British automakers Wednesday and unloaded them to India's Tata Motors Ltd. for a mere third of the original purchase price.

The deal is another sign of the growing economic muscle of India and something of an economic role reversal, with two icons of British industrial might expanding the global reach of a premier conglomerate in the former British colony.

Ford nets about $1.7 billion, a far cry from what it paid for the properties — $2.5 billion for Jaguar in 1989 and $2.7 billion for Land Rover in 2000. Counting losses and product development, analysts figure Ford spent more than $10 billion on the brands.

Those acquisitions, like General Motors' purchase of Saab and Chrysler's entanglement with Mitsubishi, came when cash was rolling in at the U.S. automakers as drivers snapped up cars and pricey pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles.

But Ford's fortunes have changed, with slumping U.S. sales and billions in losses. The fire-sale price comes as the automaker, based in Dearborn, Mich., concentrates on its main brands.

"You have to cut your losses at some point," said Erich Merkle, vice president of auto industry forecasting for the consulting firm IRN Inc. in Grand Rapids. "It's been draining them of cash and resources."

Tata is India's oldest and largest conglomerate, with holdings in steel, information technology and autos. The company should have the cash to save Jaguar and Land Rover and develop new products to better compete with luxury automakers, Merkle said.

The proceeds of the deal aren't enough to rescue Ford's finances, but the sale will allow the company to focus on restructuring its core brands, Merkle said. Ford does not break out financial results for its individual brands, but Merkle said Jaguar has never made a profit in the nine years Ford has owned it.

"They were a long time coming to the realization that this thing wasn't working," said Burnham Securities analyst David Healy.

Tata said Ford will continue to supply engines, transmissions and other components for five to nine years. The Indian company said it expects no significant changes for Jaguar and Land Rover's 16,000 workers, and its statements said it would preserve the heritage of the brands.

Indeed, British Labour Party lawmaker Richard Burden said Tata appeared to recognize the importance of "retaining the essential Britishness of the Jaguar and Land Rover brands."

Some workers were similarly optimistic about the sale and the investment it could bring, but others worried about the future.

"I am pleased I have kept my job. But for how long?" asked Paul Hoyte, 35, a Land Rover worker at Solihull in central England.

The sale raises Tata's profile on the world stage, said V.G. Ramakrishnan, lead auto analyst with the consulting firm Frost and Sullivan India.

"Many people will see this deal as the future of things to come — you will see more companies out of India acquiring global companies. They want to be seen as major global players," Ramakrishnan said.

Tata, which Ford named the preferred bidder for the British automakers in January, has made a slew of acquisitions, including Britain's Tetley Tea and Boston's Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Its Tata Steel Ltd. bought Britain-based Corus Group last year for $13 billion. And in January, Tata Motors unveiled the planet's cheapest car: a $2,500 four-seater that could change the global auto industry.