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MUMBAI, Nov 22 (Reuters) - UK union leaders for workers at Ford Motor Co's (F.N) Land Rover and Jaguar brands have voted to support a Tata Motors (TAMO.BO) bid for the brands if Ford sells them, the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal reported.
Union leaders still preferred to stay as a 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", FT quoted the union as saying.
Union backing, while "not essential, is seen as important for the politically sensitive deal", the FT said, 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.
The statement followed presentations to union representatives in London on Tuesday by Tata, rival Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd (MAHM.BO) and buyout firm One Equity Partners, FT said.
Union representatives questioned the bidders about their plans, including possible future offshoring of jobs or other functions now based in the UK, the FT said.
Tata, also India's No. 3 carmaker, said it was committed to the two brands as a long-term investment and endorsed their current management, the FT 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.
Sources have told Reuters the three bidders left on a shortlist are Tata Motors, Mahindra and buyout firm partner Apollo, and JP Morgan-backed One Equity Partners (JPM.N).
A WSJ Web site report, citing an unnamed labour official, said union representatives see Tata as the only bidder "with enough money, clout and experience" to successfully manage the brands.
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. For story, see [ID:nBOM199123] (Additional reporting by Sinead Carew and Kevin Krolicki in Detroit; editing by Louise Heavens and Ranjit Gangadharan)