Chinese drone maker expands LatAm business

Updated: 2015-08-17 04:30

By ZHAO YAN and CHEN WEIHUA in Rio de Janeiro(China Daily Latin America)

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Chinese drone maker expands LatAm business

The drone made by DJ-Innovations (DJI), China's top civilian drone-maker. Provided to China Daily

By Luis Neto, a 26-year-old model-plane shop owner in Sao Paulo, is betting on Chinese-made drones to help his business expand.

At the Drone Show Latin America, the first unmanned aircraft exposition in the region that is scheduled for October in Sao Paulo, Neto has rented the only test-flight area in the exhibition hall as well as a large booth in the central zone, to display his favorite drones made by DJ-Innovations (DJI), China's top civilian drone-maker.

"I will promote DJI drones with pride," Neto said. "DJI drones make up over 90 percent of total sales in my shop."

Neto has established a reputation in the Brazilian drone industry thanks to DJI, a leader in the drone industry for aerial photography and videography. The company holds a global market share of around 70 percent.

Two years ago, Neto shot a video with a DJI drone about a protest on Sao Paulo's Paulista Avenue, which was aired on a local television channel. After the broadcast, Neto received more than 1,000 e-mails in one week from people curious about where to buy the drone.

Seeing a potential business, he became an agent selling DJ-I drones.

His shop in the Casa Verde district of northern Sao Paulo has all types of DJI drones. Neto has even manufactured a DJI drone model by himself, four times larger than the original one.

At a time when many industries shrank due to the sluggish economy and the devaluation of the real, Neto said he has made hundreds of thousands of US dollars a year.

Brazil has become an important market in the global unmanned aircraft industry. In 2010, the Brazilian government spent $350 million for 14 drones from Israel to monitor the Amazon rainforest. However, due to the rapid technological advances of Chinese drones, recent purchases have been with Chinese companies.

Starting this month, DJI drones will be used to monitor properties where the use of forced labor is suspected, first in the state of Rio de Janeiro before expanding elsewhere. The first six drones used in Rio, Inspire 1, have powerful cameras that can shoot 360-degree, 4K videos, take photos containing 12 million pixels and transmit real-time images to smart phones or computers.

According to Wang Fan, DJI's public relations director, orders from public institutions in Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Paraguay and Peru are growing fast.

DJI has provided drones for customers in various fields, including construction, firefighting and farming, Wang said.

In Peru, cultural officials and archaeologists use DJI drones to complete 3D surveying and mapping of more than 12,000 Inca relics.

Chinese-made drones are also popular among the general public. Social networks are abuzz about how to buy drones from China, comparing various companies, including the DJI, Ehang and Zero Tech.

Founded in 2006, Shenzhen-based DJI sells products to more than 100 countries and regions with offices in Hong Kong, Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and the United States.

DJI's international reputation started in Hollywood where its drones rapidly gained use in movie and TV program production.

Latin America's film and television industry saw how the drones were being used, but did not have many opportunities to use them because distribution channels for drones had not been established in the region. That has changed with the rise of companies like Neto's.

In 2015, the DJI's business took off in the region, with sales tripling in the first half of 2015 year-on-year, reaching tens of millions of yuan, said Wang.

Neto is looking forward to the October drone expo: "I hope the show will bring me clients from other countries, so that I can sell DJI drones across the region."