Aston Martin's controlling shareholder, Investment Dar, is said to have approached potential buyers for the maker of the luxury sports cars featured in James Bond movies.
The Kuwaiti company, which owns 64 per cent of Gaydon, British-based Aston Martin, has hired Rothschild to advise on the sale, said a source who asked not to be identified because the talks are private.
Indian carmaker Mahindra & Mahindra is apparently among potential suitors Investment Dar has approached.
A sale has proved difficult because investors haven't been willing to match the price the Kuwaiti owner paid five years ago. Investment Dar has sought about US$800 million ($980 million) for its stake, the source said. For Kuwait's Investment Dar, part of the group that bought Aston Martin for £503 million ($980 million) in 2007, the proceeds would help the company pay off debt.
A new backer for Aston Martin may help the maker of the NZ$2.34 million One-77 to develop cars that can challenge Volkswagen's Bentley and Fiat's Ferrari.
"I don't think you can truly compete without having the capabilities of a large car company behind you," said John Wolkonowicz, an independent auto analyst. "There are very few examples of sustained success without it."
A representative at Investment Dar denied the company is seeking to sell Aston Martin.
Janette Green, director of brand communications at Aston Martin, said Investment Dar isn't considering a sale. Requests for comment to Chairman David Richards were referred back to Green. Roma Balwani, a Mahindra spokeswoman in Mumbai, declined to comment on speculation.
Toyota, Asia's largest carmaker, is said to have hired an auditor to conduct a one-week study on buying a stake in Aston Martin.
The analysis, which was preliminary and carried out less than two months ago, hasn't advanced to a copmprehensive evaluation.
Shino Yamada, a Tokyo-based spokeswoman at Toyota, declined to comment.
Investment Dar has reason to sell. The company agreed in February last year to reorganise 1.37 billion dinars ($5.95 billion) of debt after missing payment on an Islamic bond in May 2009. The restructuring is being implemented under Kuwait's Financial Stability Law, enacted t in April 2009 to bolster financial institutions hurt by the credit crisis.
Before Investment Dar and Adeem Investment became owners five years ago, Ford controlled the brand and had done since 1987.
While Aston Martin still gets engines from Ford, it lost access to Ford's other resources after the sale and remains the only global luxury brand that's not part of a larger auto group.
That independence could be a handicap with the auto industry under pressure to develop technologies to improve fuel efficiency.
BMW is investing more than €1 billion ($1.6 billion) this year on making engines more efficient and developing electric vehicles. That sum exceeds Aston Martin's 2011 revenue of £507 million ($988 million).
Large carmakers can help niche manufacturers stay competitive by spreading development costs across brands and models.
Fiat owns Maserati and Alfa Romeo as well as Ferrari.
VW completed the purchase of the Porsche car brand this year, adding the maker of the 911 alongside Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini and Bugatti. VW uses the same platform to underpin the Lamborghini Gallardo and Audi's R8, while the Bentley Continental Flying Spur and GT models share components with the VW Phaeton.
BMW, which owns the Rolls-Royce marque, plans to roll out the i3 electric car next year, as it adapts to demand for cleaner cars.
The bulk of Aston Martin's lineup consists of two-door coupes like the DB9, Vanquish and Vantage.
It also offers the Cygnet city car, which is based on Toyota's iQ. Aston Martin vehicles have been featured in 11 James Bond movies, including the vintage silver DB5 in the latest film, Skyfall.