Ford Motor Company, to its chagrin overtaken in July by Toyota as number two US auto marque (by unit sales), has launched a strategic review of its underperforming operations.

The Dearborn, Michigan-headquartered company has hired former investment banker Kenneth Leet - significantly, a specialist in mergers and acquisitions - to evaluate problem brands, notably those in its seemingly misnamed Premier Automotive Group.

PAG comprises five fiscally backfiring brands - Volvo, Aston Martin, Land Rover and, most notably, Jaguar - all formerly successful independent European marques.

Leet, who reports direct to chairman/ceo Bill Ford, will lead a small team that has already started to evaluate the company's assets and brands, according to insiders. "He will look at everything to see what is bringing in cash and what is not," says a mole

Leet's first priority is a review of Jaguar, a sleek lossmaker for Ford since it was acquired for $2.6 billion in 1989. However, brand historians are uncertain whether Jaguar's perceived image has dragged down Ford or vice versa.

Ford's loss totalled $123 million (€96.26m; £65.74m) in the second quarter of 2006, a figure that raised eyebrows in Wall Street and triggered an acceleration of the company's restructuring plan.

Toyota, meantime, resisted the impulse to let out a triumphant whoop. "One dot on the line doesn't make a trend. We have a long way to go," said Irv Miller, group vp, corporate communications at Toyota Motor Sales USA.

However, Miller notes that analysts are detecting "a leveling trend" among auto companies in the United States, indicating an accelerating similarity to the crowded European market.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online and New York Times; additional content by WARC staff