The Cat Is Back
SOMEWHERE DOWN THE LINE, JAGUAR LOST ITS PREDATORY INSTINCT, BUT THE ONCE-ICONIC BRAND IS BACK, BOASTING LUXURY, STYLE AND TECHNOLOGY TO RIVAL TESLA.
Somewhere down the line, Jaguar lost its predatory instinct, but the once-iconic brand is back, boasting luxury, style and technology to rival Tesla.
When she's not serving her country, Great Britain's Queen Elizabeth II loves driving, often taking members of her family for a spin in her Range Rover. The 93-year-old greatgrandmother was recently spotted out in her green Jaguar too, after attending a church service in Windsor. The Queen is usually chauffeured in state cars on royal occasions, but in her own time, she appears to enjoy nothing more than getting behind the wheel of these two English automotive icons.
For Jaguar in particular, its royal connections and distinctive styling have always been a hallmark of the British carmaker. In his cult 1969 movie, “The Italian Job”, Michael Caine's character described the E Type Jaguar as one of the “three fast cars if anything goes wrong.” At that time, Jaguars were among the most beautiful cars on the road, and for Bruce Robertson, Managing Director of Jaguar Land Rover, MENA, they still are.
“They are class-leading, premium British vehicles—cars that provide a driving experience our customers will feel compelled toward,” says the MD. “Driving them is a multi-sensory experience that begins before the engine even starts.”
But somewhere down the line, something went wrong for the Jag. The first bump in the road came when Ford Motors bought the brand in 1990. The American auto giant set out to address problems of quality, but somehow ended up doing the precise opposite, producing what critics described as, “a European copy of the Ford Mondeo with a Jaguar logo on it.”
After 18 difficult years of trying to place Jaguar on a par with the likes of Mercedes-Benz and BMW, Ford finally conceded defeat and, in 2008, decided to sell Jaguar Land Rover, to India's Tata Motors. The price was $2.3 billion, just half of the sum that Ford originally paid. It seemed like a good deal for Tata, but unfortunately for the Indian conglomerate, whose normal products are trucks, buses, and economical cars, the purchase couldn't have come at a worse time. Just a few months after closing the deal, the global financial crisis hit, dealing a harsh blow to the automotive industry.
To survive in the long run, Tata Motors set out two main objectives for its newly
acquired Jaguar Land Rover business: cut costs and invest in new products to support future growth. That meant pumping around 14% of annual revenues into research and development, significantly more than the industry's typical average of 5%. It was a risk, but the strategy threw the British brand a lifeline.
Yet, for Tata, mere survival was not enough. The only way to right the ship was to offer more efficient engine options and introduce the first Jaguar SUV: the Jaguar F-Pace. It was an instant hit. Named the winner of the 2017 World Car of the Year and World Car Design of the Year Awards at the New York International Auto Show, the SUV alone was enough to place Jaguar back at the heart of the luxury vehicle market.
Jaguar's product reinvestment strategy began to pay off, with sales more than tripling between 2009 and 2017, reaching 178,601 units. Since then, Jaguar and Land Rover combined sold 578,915 vehicles in last fiscal year 2018/19.
The picture isn't all rosy though. Back in June, Moody's Investors Service downgraded the rating of Jaguar Land Rover, partly because of cash flow issues resulting from the company's R&D push, and partly because of subdued performance in China. "The downgrade reflects Moody's expectation that leverage will remain elevated and free cash flow negative for fiscal years 2020 and 2021 as Jaguar Land Rover seeks to turn around performance in China, executes its restructuring program and continues to invest in its future model lineup, including electrification", says Tobias Wagner, VicePresident and Senior Analyst at Moody's.
The fallout from Brexit and potential tariffs in the U.S. add to the possible challenges ahead, but it's not all bad news. Moody's also expects the company's restructuring program and other initiatives to support profitability improvements this year, and cash flow generation was solid in the last quarter to March 2019. What's more, sales have been strong, with the Middle East doing its part. Jaguar's retail sales in the region rose by 46% last year, while Land Rover reported a 13% year-on-year increase.
“The region's automotive industry has faced many challenges over the past year, yet we were able to report an impressive increase in annual sales due to the continued loyalty and support for the brand,” says Robertson. For the MD, the Middle East is key to future growth. From Jaguar Land Rover's Dubai hub, the team provides support to 41 dealerships across 17 regional markets, whether through skill building at the Jaguar Land Rover Training Academy, parts supply from a distribution center at Jebel Ali Free Zone, or hot weather vehicle testing at the Engineering Vehicle Testing Centre.
Beyond Middle Eastern shores, one of the major factors behind Jaguar's resurgence has been the
introduction this year of the Jaguar I-Pace, the company's first premium, battery-electric crossover vehicle. The new model has a range of up to 240 miles and can hit 60 miles per hour in as little as 4.5 seconds. This time, the critics have been much more complimentary, with experts referring to the I-Pace as the “world's first legitimate Tesla-fighter”.
“It's a car that has set a new benchmark in the world of luxury electric vehicles,” says Robertson, adding that the I-Pace was the first model to ever win three World Car titles in the award's 15-year history. “This tells us a lot about the significance of this vehicle to our industry's progress,” continues the MD. To its advantage, while taste is clearly subjective, the I-Pace is regarded by many as more stylish than Tesla's Model X, and it comes in at $10,000 cheaper too.
David Bailey, auto industry expert and professor at the University of Birmingham echoes the resurgence of Jaguar since its entry into the electric vehicle space. “Jaguar as a brand has struggled in recent years. Its saloons like the XE and XF are competent performers but haven't really cut it against the likes of BMW's 3 and 5 Series. Things changed, though, with the arrival of a range of sporty Jaguar crossovers, like the F-Pace, E-Pace and all-electric I-Pace.” What's more, says Bailey, Jaguar stole a march on its German rivals by getting to the market first, and in doing so, became “the first premium competitor to Tesla.”
From electric vehicles to SUVs, the brand has regained its luxury status and as it looks to the future, the company isn't holding back. Jaguar Land Rover is opening new facilities in the U.K., China, Slovakia and Brazil, while in MENA, plans are afoot to grow to 62 dealerships across 20 markets by next year. Even at the top of the food chain, the mood is upbeat. In a recent statement, Jaguar Land Rover's Chief Executive, Ralf Speth, outlined the future vision: “We will go forward as a transformed 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.”
Jaguar may have a way to go in clawing back its once iconic status, but rest assured, the cat is back.
was everywhere. “It was scary,” says McGrady, remembering the weight of responsibility. “When we would do a state banquet, there were huge fruit bowls worth thousands and thousands of dollars and we could only carry one at a time in case we dropped one,” he smiles.
Things rarely got broken. At Buckingham Palace, fine china is kept in a special pantry equipped with rubber sinks to minimize breakages and everything is washed by hand—the silver, the plates, the crystal glassware. Dishwashers? Forget it. “You couldn't risk it. You couldn't put Meissen or Royal Crown Derby [china] into the dishwasher. Oh, my goodness, you couldn't!” McGrady shudders. Over his thirty-plus years in the industry, he has cooked for five U.S. presidents, the Sultan of Brunei and rulers from four of the six GCC states, but the thought of breaking the Queen's fine china still sends shivers down his spine.
But of course, as a chef working for Her Majesty, life was about more than plating up onto centuries-old porcelain, it was busy and varied. First, there were 300 staff to cook lunch for every day, then they could have anything from a state banquet with the King of Saudi Arabia to an evening when the Queen wished to dine alone. “Other nights Prince Charles would be hosting a dinner for 50 people, the Queen would have a canape reception for 200 in another room, and Prince Edward would have a group of friends over,” says McGrady. The sheer immensity of the royal estate called for flexibility too. “The Queen has 20 chefs who live out of suitcases. They travel to Sandringham, Windsor, Balmoral and Holyrood House and, when I was there, the Royal yacht Britannia wherever it was in the world,” he explains, listing the royal residences where he would don his chef 's hat on demand.
Yet, behind the jet setting and ceremonial pomp of royal life, there was a quieter, private side to the royal family, which came with an entirely different set of culinary requirements. Make no mistake, when Chef McGrady made the 1.5 mile move from The Savoy to Buckingham Palace, he was trading hotel for private home, and that made a difference where cooking was concerned. “You're cooking in someone's home, so when the Queen doesn't eat garlic, you can't put that in your dishes, it's gone. Similarly, when she says ‘No, Beef Stroganoff doesn't have paprika in it,' then that's that,” he remarks.
And, the Queen doesn't just decide on what's in and out where ingredients are concerned. Like any other person, her wishes where meals are concerned are as changeable as the British weather, though she reportedly errs on the traditional side, opting for staple English and French dishes. As McGrady points out, no-one can live eating fois gras and caviar every night. In fact, during his time in the royal kitchens, mashed potatoes or grilled chicken with salad were sometimes the order of the day.
On the other hand, the monarch's husband was a little more adventurous. According to the chef, the Queen eats to live, while Prince Philip lives to eat and relishes the opportunity to try new things. By all accounts, their son, Prince Charles, is a foodie too. “When I was there, he was the first high profile person in the world to go into organic food,” says McGrady. Then there were the younger royals. The Queen's grandchildren and other young family members would frequent restaurants with friends and return with special requests for dishes they had tried in swanky London eateries.
That, however, is where the insight into the private life of the Queen and her closest family ends. Buckingham Palace is so huge that McGrady would see the monarch perhaps once or twice a year. It wasn't until he accompanied them on their travels that he'd get to see the royal family up close, whether that was dancing with them at the Ghillies Ball at Balmoral Castle, or chatting with Prince Philip in the kitchens at other royal retreats.
That said, his regal adventure was a tale of two, distinct parts: one was the 11 years he spent working for the Queen and the other was the four he spent as chef to Princess Diana. McGrady recounts how the princess would come down to the kitchens with William and Harry almost daily. If she was on her own for lunch, she'd eat in the kitchen, and her two boys would be in and out
all the time. “I held Prince Harry as a baby while Princess Diana was eating cereal in the kitchen at Windsor Castle,” he says. “I watched them grow up. I did everything from pureeing fruit and vegetables for them as babies, to them being 11 and 15 at Kensington when they'd come into the kitchen and say ‘can we have pizza tonight?'”
From pizza requests to simple salads, one of the lessons that life with the British royals taught chef McGrady was the true meaning of luxury food. As a young chef, he had thought that cooking for the rich and famous was all about opulence, but he quickly came to realize that for Queen Elizabeth II and her family, 100 lobsters or caviar in abundance were not luxuries. Rather, luxury was produce that came from their own gardens and estates. “The Queen got far more excited about seeing venison on the menu that was from the Balmoral estate, or about seeing a salmon that Prince Charles or the Queen Mother had caught from the River Dee,” he explains.
One stand-out memory for the chef was going down to the gardens at Balmoral with Princess Margaret and picking raspberries and blueberries to have at dinner that night. Yet, for the starkest example of luxury in action, McGrady winds the clock back to 1947 and the wedding of the Queen and Prince Philip. “It was around war time and they were using ration books to pay for food, even for the Queen's wedding,” he explains. She wanted strawberries, but it was November and strawberry season had passed, so they grew them in the hothouses at Windsor Castle just for the wedding. That, says the chef who started out at one of London's top hotels, is luxury.
Over the decades, McGrady's former colleagues at The Savoy have also moved on, but he still maintains ties with the hotel— especially on royal occasions. “I worked on a collaboration with Chef McGrady in celebration of Her Majesty's 90th birthday,” says Emma Parfitt, Director of Communications at The Savoy. “He worked with our executive chef at the time to create a Royal Afternoon Tea at The Savoy…It was hugely successful and we loved working with him.”
Fast forward to today and the royal influence still rubs off on Chef Darren
McGrady. Now a resident of Dallas, Texas, he finds nothing more luxurious then heading out into his garden and finding just enough fiddlehead ferns to make a salad for dinner. His days plating up hand-painted Meissen china may be long behind him, but his experience at the royal household is never far from his mind—and with a company called Eating Royally, the chances are, it never will be.
The thriving catering business takes McGrady all over the world running culinary events and sharing his experiences at a range of corporate and private parties. Christopher Ryan, Chair of Tiger21, a members-only organization that supports the investment community, counts amongst the chef 's satisfied clients. “Chef Darren McGrady is an extraordinary culinary talent and a master storyteller,” he says. According to the entrepreneur and philanthropist, McGrady “pairs his first-hand accounts of the English Royals with outstanding and memorable meals, creating experiences his audiences cherish for a lifetime.”
Having just returned from cooking dinner in Singapore, McGrady's next stop is Hong Kong followed by an event in London. But there's one part of the world that the royal chef is yet to explore: “I'd love to do something in Dubai,” he says. “That's an exciting prospect to me.”
The introduction of the F-PACE, Jaguar's first SUV, placed the brand back at the heart of the luxury car market.
The Jaguar I-Pace is touted by some as the first competitor to Tesla.
Darren McGrady (second row, second from left) worked as Royal Chef to Queen Elizabeth II from 1982 to 1993.