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Chinese drone-maker DJI looks to expand in LatAm

CHINESE drone manufacturer DJI-Innovations, a world leader with a 70-percent share of the global market, is poised to expand in Latin America over the next few years, as it proves to be multi-functional in various fields.

Based in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, DJI, already well known for its Phantom drone, expects its new range of models designed for the corporate sector to help boost sales growth in the region.

"We have seen notable growth of clients in the market segment for inspections of electrical and telephone lines, and also in agriculture," said DJI's regional director Manuel Martinez.

Online sales of DJI drones in Latin America began in 2014, but the company had no physical presence in the region until January 2016, so its sales share is still "quite below other markets such as China and the United States, which are constantly vying for the first place, followed by Europe," Martinez said.

China and the United States currently constitute 60 percent of the company's sales, with Europe accounting for 30 percent, and the remaining 10 percent are shared by the rest of Asia, Africa, the Middle East and Latin America -- but not for long. The company expects Latin American sales to catch up with those of Europe.

"We know that the business sector will be the market segment with the largest growth in Latin America. Compared with China, the United States and Asia, where sales are driven more by the recreational segment, the corporate sector accounts for some 97 percent of drone sales in Latin America," said Martinez.

The region's "very high tax burden" discourages average citizens from purchasing drones, he said.

"Here, drones are a corporate thing. The only markets where you see more recreational drones are Chile and Mexico, because Chile has free-trade agreements and Mexico borders on the United States. In the rest of the Latin American countries, drones are for business, inspections, the agricultural segment and for recordings," said Martinez.

DJI is catering to that market, "launching products that are in great demand for expeditions and for agriculture," he said, referring to products including drone-equipped cameras used in mining and inspection of buildings for damage.

"The drone detects problems, providing companies with greater security and saving their money," he said.

For the agricultural sector, DJI has its "Agras line of spraying machines, which can't replace planes, but can do high precision tasks," said Martinez.

After planes finish spraying, drones can be sent in to detect problems, missed spots and concentrations of blight, and deliver the extra spraying needed.

"Uruguay is the first country in the region to fully develop a government policy that will allow it to become the first to develop a drone-based services industry," said Martinez. "It is the first country in the world with an official state policy (regarding drones)."

In Brazil, firefighters are putting DJI's drones "to very nice use," said Martinez.

DJI has formed a "strategic partnership with firefighters" in the Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro, training them to use drones in search and rescue operations, and to detect mosquito breeding grounds that can spread diseases like dengue, he said.

In business for 11 years, DJI "launched drones designed for recreation, fun, photographs," and by 2015, its drones, all made in China, have generated 1.5 billion U.S. dollars in revenue, according to Martinez.


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