You may find it difficult to name any big winners from China’s pollution troubles, but one British company has been reaping the rewards.
Dyson’s sales rose by over a quarter in 2015, boosted by a tripling of sales in China. The firm said Beijing issuing two red warnings over smog levels in December increased demand for its products, such as purifiers. Total revenue was up 26% to £1.7bn (including a 222% increase in China) and profit rose 19% to £448m.
The Asia Pacific region also became the biggest source of profit for Dyson for the first time – revenue there was up 70% from 2014. While the signs had been good last year, there were concerns as to whether the Chinese slowdown would have a major impact on consumer attitudes. So far at least, it’s not hindered Dyson capitalising on the vast untapped potential in China – only 12% of households have a vacuum cleaner. Well, they did in September. Dyson might have boosted that figure since then.
After posting strong figures, the company's now ploughing money into the tech around longer-lasting batteries. ‘We have invested £100m looking at batteries in the past five years,’ CEO Max Conze said. ‘We are now stepping up that work and will spend £1bn by 2020. Solving energy density is the greatest engineering challenge in the 21st century.’
This hefty sum could in the short-term improve some of Dyson’s products like its cordless handheld vacuum cleaners. In the long-term, it could be a springboard for further diversification. Developing batteries for electric cars powerful enough to compete with the range of petrol engines is an ongoing quest within the automotive industry. If Dyson made big progress here, a number of doors could open – all with pound signs looming above them.
Then there’s robotics. Cleaning and other household chores remain one of the few areas the general public repeatedly say they'd be happy to pass over to robots. The company has more than 50 active research projects – also spanning aerodynamics and thermodynamics. Its upcoming 360 Eye robotic vacuum cleaner which can ‘see’ obstructions around it to avoid bumping into anything, should be an early indicator as to just how much appetite there is among consumers for robotics.
All of this combined is very much a signal of intent – the engineering firm clearly has an eye on cleaning up when it comes to disruptive technologies.