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Thu, May 29, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Motorola, Dell lose China market share to local firms

AFTER-SALES SUPPORT Many foreign companies may have underestimated their domestic competitors in China, and their lack of local knowledge is starting to show

BLOOMBERG

Sun Qiang, a Beijing security guard, spent 1,200 yuan (US$145) on a new mobile phone this month.

Bypassing models from Motorola Inc and Nokia Oyj, he chose one from TCL Mobile Communication Co, China's No. 2 handset maker.

"TCL's phones are nice-looking and handy, and they have good functions," said Sun, 20, who moved to Beijing two years ago from central China's Henan Province. "I don't like Nokia phones because they're too big."

TCL, Ningbo Bird Co and other local cell-phone makers have more than doubled their share of China's mobile-phone market -- the world's biggest -- since the end of 2001, narrowing the gap with market leaders Motorola and Nokia. Chinese manufacturers of goods from computers to shampoo are also gaining on international rivals at home.

Companies such as Motorola and Dell Computer Corp that initially used China as a low-cost export base have grown increasingly reliant on sales to the country's 1.3 billion consumers.

Yet international brands are now losing market share to local rivals that cater more directly to Chinese tastes and have wider distribution networks.

In March, local cell-phone makers accounted for a combined 35 percent of sales of handsets using the GSM -- Global System for Mobile Communications -- network that's shared by 95 percent of China's phones, according to a report from CCID Datasource Co, a unit of China's phone ministry. That's up from 15 percent at the end of 2001.

"China is important for Nokia and Motorola as growth there is stronger than in their home markets," said Miska Kuhalampi, who helps manage the equivalent of more than US$702 million, including Nokia shares, at Aktia Asset Management in Helsinki.

Nokia and Motorola "may have underestimated the local manufacturers," he said.

China had 226 million mobile-phone users at the end of last month, more than any other of country.

It's the No. 2 market for both Motorola and Nokia, the world's biggest cell-phone makers, after their respective home markets of the US and Europe.

Multinational companies are vying with increasingly popular Chinese brands for consumers' cash.

Average incomes among the country's 500 million city residents have risen 42 percent since 1998 as annual economic growth averaged 7.7 percent.

In China's computer market, second in size only to the US, multinational companies lag far behind local brands.

Legend Group Ltd, China's No. 1 personal computer maker, had a 27 percent market share last year.

That compared with 5 percent each for Dell Computer Corp and International Business Machines Corp, the country's top two non-Chinese PC sellers, and 3 percent for Hewlett-Packard Co, the third-biggest, according to market researcher International Data Corp.

In the consumer market, Dell, IBM and Hewlett-Packard each had a share of 1 percent or less, IDC figures show.

"Chinese computer makers do much better because their product range, prices and after-sales service appeal to the bulk of customers," said Kitty Fok, who tracks the country's PC industry at IDC in Hong Kong.

Hewlett-Packard, the world's second-largest computer maker, doesn't sell a desktop computer geared toward consumers in China, Fok said. Dell, the world's No. 2 maker of personal computers, sells to consumers online and not in stores.

Legend, by contrast, offers a wider range of PCs in retail outlets across China, and its bigger distribution network makes it easier for customers to get after-sales support, Fok said.

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