Dell Reboots.


The U.S. computer maker takes aim at Latin America once again.

LUIS CANTU IS CONSIDERED A SAVior around the halls of Reforma, a daily newspaper in Mexico City. When their computers crash, reporters call him to get their PCs up and running again so they can make their deadlines.

But when he is unable to fix the problem, Cantu knows who to call: Dell Computer Corp., which sold Reforma its machines. If a system cannot be set right over the telephone, the company will dispatch a technician to the newspaper within 48 hours. Cantu is so impressed with the computer maker, he's looking to buy another 60 to 70 PCs from the company this year as a backup in case of a potential Y2K meltdown. Mural, a new sister paper in Guadalajara, is 100% stocked with Dell computers, and El Norte in Monterrey is moving in that direction. "We're totally happy with Dell," he says. "They're fast, efficient and a good price."

Reforma is just the beginning. The US$18 billion (sales) computer maker based outside Austin, Texas, has recently targeted Latin America as its next big growth region. Over the past year, Dell has opened offices in Bogota and Santiago, joining an existing office in Mexico City. Manufacturing facilities in Brazil are nearly complete and a new Spanish-language web site that will allow Latin American consumers to buy custom-made PCs over the Internet is coming online.

"They're ramping up in the region and they're investing," says Loren Loverde, research manager at IDC Latin America, a unit of computer research firm International Data Corp., who recently met with the company. "They've clearly got a new focus there."

Until now, Dell has shown only a halfhearted commitment to the region. IDC ranks Dell as the fifth-largest computer maker in Latin America last year with only 2.9% of the $6.82 billion PC market, trailing behind such competitors as Compaq Computer, International Business Machines, Hewlett-Packard and Acer. But that's certainly an improvement over last year, when it ranked a dismal 14th place with only 1.5% of the market. Dell won't divulge market share figures or confirm IDC's numbers.

The first forays into the region began around seven years ago; Dell even opened a local configuration facility outside Mexico City in 1993. But about a year later, it closed the plant--as well as several others around the world--when it moved to a more centralized manufacturing model focused around its Texas and Ireland facilities. Mexico's peso devaluation...

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