EUROPE: Chinese air conditioning manufacturer Haier is looking to make major inroads into the European market by relaunching the product in the UK, Benelux and Germany.

For the UK, this will be third attempt by the leading Chinese air conditioning manufacturer to establish itself but Haier’s recently appointed European general manager for HVAC, Bob Cowlard, promises that things will be different this time.

Appointed at the beginning of the year, Cowlard, with his vast experience of the UK and European air conditioning market, seems the ideal appointment to change perceptions of a brand tainted by previous failures. 

Promising a “soft start”, Cowlard said: “This year’s focus is to put the infrastructure in place and establish a foothold in the UK, Benelux and Germany, because next year we will have the products to shout about.”

These products will include Haier’s latest MRV 5 VRF and chillers, in addition to its RAC products. 

A new company, Pure Air Distribution, has been appointed as Haier’s distribution partner in the UK. In Germany, the wholesaler Reiss Kälte-Klima was appointed last October. Others will follow. 

“We will initially be working with specialist commercial distributors in the UK; those that add value to the supply chain, and add a support function. It’s all about doing it right.”

Haier’s HVAC Solution business is being set up as a new division in each country. Haier Air Conditioning Italy is the leading light in the group so far having been set up several years ago in Treviso. The overall European headquarters is in Paris.

The Haier UK air conditioning business is headquartered in Woking, Surrey, where Stewart Betteridge has been appointed area sales manager. With a background in contracting, Betteridge has also previously worked for UK air conditioning distributors Kooltech and HRP.

Haier’s already established air conditioning markets in Southern Europe, have brought sales of €42m in Italy, €18m in Spain and €8m in France. Sales in Central Europe are €15m per year and the product is no 2 in Russia. 

The Haier product first appeared in the UK in 2001 through New Century (Haier) Air Conditioning Ltd, but was beset with reliability issues. After a break of three years it re-entered the UK market briefly in 2009 with no greater success.

Bob Cowlard insists that the company has learned its lesson from those failures and the quality and reliability of the product now bears no resemblance to those former times.

Although accepted as a major player in the Far East, its presence and standing in the West has been bolstered by last year’s purchase of US manufacturer General Electric.

Bob Cowlard: “Everyone now appreciates that China as a manufacturing point has improved drastically”

“Product quality has been going up and up,” says Cowlard, “but the addition of GE has brought an extra level of quality control.

“I took a long hard look at the current and future range, and most especially the quality. I would not have joined if I was not satisfied with where we are. I think that everyone now appreciates that China as a manufacturing point has improved drastically and now builds for nearly all manufacturers in our industry. However, it also means that manufacturing costs go up so no longer can they be called ‘cheap Chinese imports’.  

“The critical issue is that I ensure that future product development is in line with European needs and that the infrastructure is in place to support the product (spares, technical manuals etc). That is why I am insisting upon having local staff and local offices throughout Europe and not just work on sales to a national importer as other new entrants have done.”

Haier RAC range boasts the second largest choice of R32 air conditioners behind Daikin. “We recognise that the market is not yet fully prepared for R32, so this year we will have both R410A and R32 units available.”

When the infrastructure is in place, next year will see the launch of Haier’s “hero” products, lead by its latest MRV 5 VRF system, screw chillers and oil-free centrifugal chillers using Turbocor compressors.

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