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Cisco is ‘very optimistic' about its expanding business with China EVs

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  • Cisco is "very optimistic" about its growing business with Chinese electric car companies as they expand overseas, Cisco's Greater China head Ming Wong told CNBC.
  • Chinese electric car companies have ramped up their global expansion in the last year as competition domestically has intensified.
  • "At least as of now, we don't hear anything from the [EV] customers saying that, 'Oh, because of this, we need to stop investing, or we need to slow down,'" Wong said.

DALIAN, China — Cisco is "very optimistic" about its growing business with Chinese electric car companies as they expand overseas, the company's Greater China head told CNBC on Tuesday.

The EV segment is the U.S. tech giant's second-largest for the region — Cisco generates most of its revenue in Greater China from manufacturing companies, and within that, electric cars form the largest category, said Ming Wong, vice president and CEO of Cisco Greater China.

Chinese EV-makers have ramped up their global expansion in the last year as domestic competition intensified.

However, trade tensions have escalated, with the U.S. and likely the European Union, increasing tariffs on imports of Chinese electric cars.

That doesn't necessarily restrict their growth. Chinese automakers, such as BYD, are investing in local factories.

Cisco, which provides networking equipment and software for businesses, is working with at least 10 electric car customers as they build factories, offices and research and development centers overseas, according to Wong.

"At least as of now, we don't hear anything from the [EV] customers saying that, 'Oh, because of this, we need to stop investing, or we need to slow down,'" he added.

"It's actually the other way around. A lot of things happening. They will keep pushing, going forward, and we'll see how this will evolve."

It's unclear how much spending such business expansion will generate, said Shiv Shivaraman, Asia region leader, and partner and managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners.

"But you should expect that there is going to be manufacturing-related capex as well as office-related capex," he said. "And I think tariffs will definitely accelerate, if not increase it."

Getting China businesses back to growth

The U.S.-based tech company has run into challenges in the China market as the two countries increasingly rely on domestic players in the name of national security.

Cisco CEO Chuck Robbins told analysts in 2019 that the U.S.-China trade war resulted in a "significant impact" on its business in China.

The company's revenue in the country fell by 25% on an annualized basis in the quarter ended late July 2019, Cisco said at the time.

"What we've seen is in the state on enterprises ... we're just being — we're being uninvited to bid," Robbins said. "We're not being allowed to even participate anymore."

Sales to carriers declined more forcefully as well, he said.

Looking ahead, Wong is hopeful that the China business can return to growth this year. He did not specifically reference the 2019 period in his remarks.

He pointed out that state-owned and non-state-owned businesses are turning to Cisco as they expand globally. "So we are shifting our focus and portfolio to that side," Wong said.

Also supporting Cisco's business are Chinese internet companies such as Alibaba that are expanding globally, Wong said. He added that Cisco also benefits from its ability to connect different graphics processing unit providers together in a market where AI giant Nvidia is restricted.

GPUs are the chip systems powering the training and implementation of the latest artificial intelligence models.

In Cisco's latest quarterly reporting period, which ended in late April, total revenue fell by 13% from a year ago, with revenue in Asia-Pacific, Japan and China falling 12% during that time.

Wong pointed out the latest slump in the Asia-Pacific, Japan and China revenue is off a high base, and he expects it to grow more quickly in the next one or two years.

"Asia Pacific is still the highest growth area for Cisco," he said.

— CNBC's Jordan Novet contributed to this report.

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