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We are a global brand and not just a Chinese company, says Mike Chen of TCL India

“I am almost half-Indian by now and I love this country.” Not the words you expect from a Chinese national heading a Chinese consumer electronics firm in India at a time when ties between the two neighbours are at their lowest in decades.

But TCL India country manager Mike Chen has a long association with the country where he was first posted in 2007-2010. He came back in 2016, this time to head TCL in India following its official launch.

From 2016 to 2020, there has been a sea change in the trade relationship between the two countries. Anti-China sentiment has been growing in India, especially after 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a clash with Chinese troops along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh’s Galwan Valley in June this year.

India’s biggest trading partner has been facing boycott calls, with investment laws being tightened for Chinese investors. Contracts have been put on hold and some even scrapped as border standoff continues.

The 47-year-old Chen—who is not fastidious about his first or second name being used in subsequent references—seems almost unperturbed by the strained bilateral ties.

His focus is firmly on business and he expects the company to have another good year in India as it gears up for the festival season.

TCL sales have not been affected by the tension, Chen told Moneycontrol in a video interview. The company’s sales have gone up 10 percent since the lockdown between April and July compared to the same period last year, he said, without sharing the numbers.

In 2019, TCL sold a million television sets in India, an almost 267 percent year-on-year growth compared to 300,000 units sold the previous year.

The company has a 6 percent share of India’s television market and is among the country’s top five brands.

As per the IDC’s Worldwide Quarterly Smart Home Device Tracker (Q3, 2019), Xiaomi is the biggest smart television brand in India followed by Samsung, LG, Sony and TCL.

TCL should not be referred to as a Chinese company because it was now a global brand, said Chen, who has been with TCL since 1998 and has worked in markets like Thailand and Vietnam.

Headquartered in Huizhou in China’s Guangdong province, TCL was set up in 1981 as a consumer electronics business and has been making televisions for more than two decades.

“We are the second largest in the world as far as television sales are concerned. Though there is a tough competition in India, we are popular because our products are affordable,” he added.

Data from research firm Sigmaintell shows with a 13 percent market share, TCL is the second-largest TV maker in the world. It sold 32 million TVs in 2019. Samsung tops the table, with a 17.8 percent market share.

As the coronavirus outbreak batters business and slows the economy, TCL is confident of clocking good numbers in India.

“Though there has been some impact due to COVID-19, we are looking for a 10-20 percent sales growth this year. Our advantage has been that even if people don’t have a big budget to buy a TV, we are able to offer relevant products,” he added.

Import licence and festival season

In July, the Directorate General of Foreign Trade limited the import of colour TV sets by moving them from the “free” to the “restricted” category.  Any company that wants to import a colour TV now has to secure a special licence.

TCL has applied for the licence. “We are in the process of licensing but Indian factories will need more time and materials to support manufacturing big size TV—75 or 85 inch that comes under high-end 8K televisions. But we support the new rule by government, going local will also save us cost and provide better market price,” Chen added.

Ahead of the festival season, which accounts for almost 60 percent of the annual sales for the TV industry, Chen said TCL was getting ready to produce 0.5 million units for Diwali sale.

“This year, we will focus on the bigger size and products in our 4K and QLED bouquets. Our new-generation smart Android TVs come with hand-free voice control, with IoT combined and that is what customers are looking for,” he said.

A 55-inch TCL QLED television is priced at around Rs 55,990, while its competitors charge at least Rs 80,000.

Unlike other brands, Chen said TCL was manufacturing TV panels locally. Panels are a core component of a television set and most brands import it from other markets.

TCL has a panel-making facility in Andhra Pradesh’s Tirupati. The plant was set up in December 2018 with an investment of Rs 2,400 crore and has a manufacturing capacity of 8 million TV screens (up to 55 inch) a year.

While TCL has a strong presence in Tier 1 and 2 cities, Chen said the challenge was to expand to Tier 3 and 4 cities and towns.

Not just TV, TCL is even part of one of the most popular sporting events in the country.

TCL would be sponsoring an Indian Premier League (IPL) team second year in a row, Chen said but refused to share the name of the franchise or the details of sponsorship.

This comes at a time when Chinese handset maker Vivo opted out of IPL title sponsorship in the face of calls for the boycott of Made in China goods.

TCL was a team sponsor of Delhi Capitals (previously Delhi Daredevils) in the 2019 edition of the domestic Twenty20 cricket tournament.- Money Control

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