State of the drone market: China

When it comes to innovation in the manufacturing side of the commercial drone industry, China is the capital, the hub, the heartbeat, the nerve centre, the Mecca of all things commercial drone.

Because China is the home of DJI; that drone making behemoth that we have all accepted as our lord and saviour.

Well; certainly not some people in the US Congress, but you know what we mean.

China is the biggest manufacturer of commercial drones in the world by a country mile; and the analytic folks at Drone Industry Insights have decided to pay the country’s market a visit. We are sure they were surprised to discover that there are more than one drone manufacturing companies in the country.

Read on, please; this should be interesting. The original article is here.

Putting aside the fact that DJI is the undisputed global leader in drone technology, the Chinese drone market as a whole remains a powerful pioneer and advocate for commercial drones and the benefits they bring.

And it is not just DJI; three of the top five civil drone manufacturers are Chinese, and Chinese companies also feature among the top 20 Drone Service Providers (DSPs).

However, many are also aware of the difficulty in gaining reliable information about what is happening within China in various industries.

That is why this latest entry in the Drone Industry Insights Country Series goes beyond that wall in order to provide insights and analysis of the Chinese drone market. As always, the data and perspectives come directly from drone companies in China, meaning this is a first-hand look at what is happening in one of the most exciting countries for drone technology

Opportunity for Drones in China

On the one hand, it may seem odd to talk about the opportunity for drones in China when it is already the leading commercial drone market.

On the other hand, the full potential for commercial drones will not be realised yet (even in China) until large-scale advanced operations (BVLOS, at night, over people) become more commonplace.

Moreover, China’s population of 1.41 billion, spread over a vast 9.8 million km², and an economy leading in Real GDP with US$25.68 trillion enable every type of drone application to take place at a much grander scale than anywhere in the world.

That is why the market potential of drones in China remains top-of-the-line.

In terms of what is already happening in the country, whether it is maritime routes, drone light shows, orange delivery, or innovative design for drone components, there is no shortage of drone headlines coming out of China.

Suppose there is a perceived lack of headlines in the Western world about what drones are doing in China. In that case, it is more likely due to linguistic and other communication barriers than to an actual shortage of activity within the Chinese drone market.

Chinese Drone Market Composition

What do Chinese drone companies do? This simple question leads to a surprising answer when it comes to China vs the rest of the world.

Typically, one would expect the top category to be DSPs (Drone Service Providers), as is the case with most of the world.

However, drone companies in China primarily focus their business on Components & Systems (29 percent), Hardware Manufacturing (22 percent), and Drone Service Providers (seventeen percent).

So, not only does the most common type of drone company fall in third place here, but there is also an extreme focus on hardware and components (a combined 51 percent total). Regarding drones, the common perception that China is a manufacturing powerhouse is quite a fitting description of its drone industry.

Regarding company size, drone companies in China tend to be bigger than average. It is estimated that 61 percent of Chinese drone companies have over 50 employees, and a staggering sixteen percent have over 500 employees. These are not “normal” market numbers compared to the rest of the world.

As we have seen almost everywhere in our country series, drone companies tend to be service providers and relatively small operations of 50 employees or (usually) less. Even in the case of India, the second most populous country in the world, roughly 54 percent of drone companies still had 50 employees or fewer.

So, even when factoring in the country’s population, there is no question that the Chinese drone market is a hub for larger drone companies.

Priorities and Challenges for Drone Companies in China

One thing where China is similar to the rest of the world is in its priorities: Chinese drone companies also consider Marketing & Sales as their top priority.

However, this should be no surprise given the business importance of these activities (especially in a competitive local and global environment).

The second highest priority is software development, which complements the country’s strong hardware presence. Finally, the third priority is continuing the market leadership of hardware development.

As for the top challenges, the number one challenge reported by drone companies in China was logistics. Once again, this is the first time in the country series that this has appeared among the top challenges, but considering the sheer size of China’s population, geography, and economy, it is perhaps natural that logistics is perceived as the greatest challenge, especially for companies that export their products around the globe.

Additionally, due to the current geopolitical situation, many Chinese drone manufacturers face very strict export requirements.

This was followed by personnel and, perhaps surprisingly, domestic politics (perhaps related to the export requirements).

The lack of qualified personnel is common in a niche and tech-heavy drone industry. Still, interestingly, it has not yet been mentioned in the countries covered in the country series.

Meanwhile, the topic of domestic politics has appeared in several countries, though this should not immediately be interpreted as opposition to China’s strong central government given the nature of “politics” and the various factors that come into play.

Chinese Drones: A Unique Drone Market

The optimism level reported by drone companies in China ranks slightly below the global average (6.2 vs 6.6).

This could be caused by protectionist measures in major markets like the USA and India. Nevertheless, the drone market is expected to continue growing and leading both Asia and the world. Considering everything, the Chinese drone market is perhaps as unique as it is underestimated.

It is not only DJI that manufactures industry-leading technology; there are plenty of other high-performing Chinese drone companies like JOUAV, Autel Robotics, XAG, and more.

There is no lack of focus or work on AAM, considering that EHang is the only publicly traded eVTOL company that has already received (domestic) approval and begun some sort of actual operations (but only in China).

Of course, many would argue that this is due to the influence of China’s centralised government system, but that is only one among the many factors that create a unique environment for drone companies in China, many of which will be on display in the coming days at the Drone World Congress in Shenzhen.


Leave a Comment


Welcome! Login in to your account

Remember me Lost your password?

Lost Password