INTERVIEW // Between its repeated product launches in all markets and its good results, the Chinese giant Xiaomi has managed to make a place for itself in the sun in 3 years in France. We talk about it with his country manager, Yan Liu.

Xiaomi has settled on the third step of the podium in the smartphone market, benefiting from the spectacular decline of Huawei, penalized by US sanctions. The brand is behind Apple and Samsung according to the latest data from the firm IDC. And in what way, since it shows a growth of 32% in the 4th quarter of 2020 compared to the Q4 of 2020. Xiaomi is very clearly the brand to cut down on the market for entry and mid-range smartphones. But, it has proven in recent months that it can also be counted on in more premium segments. As proof, the Mi 11 Pro and Mi 11 Ultra or the folding smartphone Mi Mix Fold.

If the Chinese group remains primarily associated with its smartphones in France, it continues to diversify and open up to new segments. The latest? The electric automobile. During a conference-river, its founder and CEO, Lei Jiun, explained in length, breadth and depth, why the automobile of tomorrow is now part of his group’s strategy. And he does not intend to enter this new market through the back door, since he has decided to invest $ 10 billion over 10 years. So many orientations that deserve to be made a strategic point with the representative of the brand in France, Yan Liu.

DIGITALS – Xiaomi has become the world’s number 3 smartphone, passing Huawei, penalized by US sanctions. An unexpected situation for you, right? How is it going in France? –

Yan Liu – We managed to establish ourselves in third position as early as Q3 2020 when we overtook Apple globally. The best ranking of Xiaomi is the number 3 place. We are very present in high volume markets like India, China, Europe. We will be able to consolidate our position. We were not very far from Apple in March in France. The goal is to become number 1 in France. This requires a lot of innovation, industrial quality, and benefiting from the renewal of devices thanks to 5G. In March, we did not experience a decrease despite the confinement. Phones remain essential. And the French market remains stable, it is holding up better than expected. We had forecast a decline of 15% in February and we are down only 10%, knowing that there are a lot of stores closed. At the end of 2020, our installed base of smartphones exceeded 3.8 million units in France. At the end of March, we passed 4 million devices. A third belong to the Redmi Note range which is our core business target. This is how we consolidated ourselves.

Have consumers already switched to 5G? How does this translate into your sales? –

Many 5G terminals are sold in France because the flagships are only available in 5G. But consumers aren’t buying because it’s 5G. Everything is there to make it work: chipmakers are ready, smartphone manufacturers are ready, and so are operators. But, where it slows down, it’s on the services part, applications. Consumers decide on uses. And it lacks the use to democratize 5G. The application will come from Silicon Valley.

You presented the Mi Mix Fold a few weeks ago, Xiaomi’s technology showcase, but only for the Chinese. Why ? Can we expect its commercialization in Europe? –

There is no discrimination. We had several prototypes, but only one was marketable. We have showcases that remain concepts. We are trying in the Chinese market. We do not know what price level the brand can go to in France. The question is whether such a smartphone can meet the expectations of French Mi Fans …

Exactly, how is the Xiaomi brand perceived in France? –

Technologically, we know how to do like Samsung and Apple. Afterwards, it’s a question of volumes. We cannot launch a € 2000 smartphone if the consumer is not ready to put that price for a Xiaomi. In France, the Mi 10T was successful. The Mi 11 too. But it’s still an in-between. Huawei took 8 years to release its first premium smartphones. We are still young in France. We are working on our notoriety. On the premium, we still have a way to go, it will take time. We are giving ourselves a year to get there.

And what is your strategy on the TV market? You recently presented the Mi TV Q1 which succeeds the Mi TV 4S … can we expect other models? –

The strategy is the same as for smartphones. We want to offer products with a good price / quality ratio. But we are not sufficiently present in France to attack all areas. There are 53 of us at the head office, we can develop products, TV is an important line for us. We consider that internet access within the home is via the television, and outside the home via the smartphone. We have a strong partnership with Fnac and Darty. On televisions, there is a part of service, installation, recovery. This is why we chose Fnac-Darty as a partner.

And regarding rumors about a smartphone gaming soon? For China only? –

I cannot confirm. There are going to be other announcements. With the shortage of components affecting the supply chain, we diversify our offer as much as possible to secure. We share the risk on a lot of products. It is very painful for us. It is a global and global phenomenon. We do not have the choice.

Should we see the electric car as a growth driver for Xiaomi? You announced an investment of $ 10 billion over 10 years …

There is a question of trend. Since Tesla opened its factory in Shanghai, there has been a strong supplier presence. There are plenty of technologies with ease of supply. Xiaomi is investing in laser sensors, autonomous driving algorithms, in large batteries… We believe that we can invest in the automobile now. The part smarthome is a benchmark in China, through connected TVs, light bulbs, and all the rest. The goal of the connected car is autonomous navigation.

Have you opened seven Mi Stores in France? What is the impact of covid on your store network? And will you maintain it? –

Before the covid, there were the yellow vests. With the covid, it’s complicated to manage that, even if there is state aid. We also question ourselves. We understand that the French are still reluctant to buy online. In France, the retail weighs a lot. This is why we are obliged to keep a physical network. But we will be more careful about opening new stores.