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Tata Motors reports deep annual loss owing to China slump

Indian automaker denies plans to sell Jaguar Land Rover amid improvement

Revenue of Tata motors for the quarter ended March dipped 3.9% to 856.76 billion rupees from the same quarter a year ago.(Photo by Akira Hayakawa)

MUMBAI -- Tata Motors on May 20 ended a streak of quarterly losses as its U.K.-based unit Jaguar Land Rover made headway in China, its biggest market, which dragged it deep into the red for the fiscal year.

India's leading automaker reported a profit of 11.17 billion rupees ($160.3 million), down 47.41% on the year. This followed three straight quarters of losses. Revenue for the company's fourth quarter dipped 3.9%, to 856.76 billion rupees, from the year-earlier period.

For the year end in March, Tata Motors logged net loss of 288 billion rupees owing largely to write-downs at JLR. Amid media reports that the Indian automaker seeks to sell off the U.K.-based unit, Tata Motors finance chief P.B. Balaji dismissed the idea as "speculation" at a news conference.

N. Chandrasekaran, chairman of Indian conglomerate Tata Group, said, played up the quarterly improvement.

"Our domestic business delivered a resilient performance in the face of challenging market conditions," Chandrasekaran said. "We have continued to step up our pace of innovation, improved our market shares as well as our profitability."

Chandrasekaran added that Tata Motors is addressing Jaguar Land Rover's difficulties in China as a priority.

"To weather the volatile external scenario, we are taking decisive steps to step up competitiveness, reduce break-even and improve cash flows whilst continuing to invest in exciting products and leading-edge technologies," he said.

Jaguar Land Rover earned a quarterly pretax profit of 269 million pounds ($342.7 million) before exceptional items amid persistent challenges in China, where changes to import duties and trade tensions led to a drop in sales. Revenue during the quarter came in at 7.1 billion pounds, down 421 million pounds from the year-earlier period.

"Weaker China market conditions were partially offset by growing demand in key markets like the U.K. and U.S.," Tata Motors said in a statement.

"JLR has been amongst the first companies to address the multiple headwinds simultaneously sweeping the automotive industry, with concerted action to reduce complexity and transform its business through cost and cash flow improvements," JLR CEO Ralf Speth said.

"We have returned to profitability this quarter and already delivered 1.25 billion pounds of efficiencies and savings," Speth added.

"We will go forward as a new company that is leaner and fitter, building on the sustained investment of recent years in new products and the autonomous, connected, electric and shared technologies that will drive future demand."

In September, JLR introduced a turnaround strategy intended to deliver cost and cash flow improvements of 2.5 billion pounds over the following 18 months. The turnaround plan includes a 10% workforce reduction.

Tata Motors is hoping that new incentives for Chinese car buyers boost sales in the world's largest auto market. The incentives were introduced after the market last year contracted for the first time in more than two decades.

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