With growing sales of Verizon’s Moto Z, Lenovo’s Motorola hints at more U.S. carrier partners

BARCELONA, Spain—The top executive from Lenovo’s Motorola business promised the company will grow “by leaps and bounds” in the United States. And that growth will likely come through the success of Moto Mods, Motorola’s snap-on phone accessories, alongside potentially additional U.S. wireless carriers selling Motorola phones.

“You’ll see us grow by leaps and bounds in the U.S. market,” proclaimed Aymar de Lencquesaing, chairman and president of Lenovo’s Motorola business, during a press event here on the sidelines of the Mobile World Congress trade show.

During its press event, Motorola took the wraps off its new Moto G⁵ and Moto G⁵ Plus, the two newest iterations of the company’s low-end line of Android smartphones. In the United States, the company plans to sell only the G⁵ Plus, which sports a bigger screen and faster processor than the G⁵. Rudi Kalil, VP and general manager for Lenovo’s North America Motorola smartphone business, said the G⁵ Plus would sell for around $229 in the United States, through retailers such as Amazon and Best Buy (the same retailers that currently sell the fourth-generation of Motorola’s Moto G line of Android phones).

Separately, Motorola during its MWC press event also announced a number of new Moto Mods, the snap-on accessories that work on the company’s flagship Moto Z smartphone. The company said that in the next two quarters it would begin selling several different new Moto Mod offerings, including Moto Mods that support turbo charging and wireless charging, as well as a Moto Mod that looks like a video-game controller. Users will be able to attach the Moto Mod gamepad to a Moto Z to turn the device into a mini-video game system; the accessory will include its own built-in games.

Further, Motorola showed off concept designs for additional Moto Mods that the company said it might sell in the future. Those concepts included Moto Mods that could print off pictures, support up to four SIM cards, and act as VR headsets. One Moto Mod turned a Moto Z smartphone into a tablet by connecting the phone to a Moto Mod sporting a tablet-sized screen.

“We are committed to bringing more and more Mods to market,” said Dan Dery, Motorola’s VP and global product leader, explaining that Motorola’s Moto Mod snap-on accessories allow the company to innovate more quickly by releasing new smartphone technologies as Mods rather than full-blown devices. He added that other companies will likely build Moto Mods.

“We have great attach rates for Moto Mods,” Dery said, explaining that a growing number of Moto Z customers are also purchasing Moto Mods with their device (the Moto Z can support Moto Mod accessories but the Moto G cannot).

Kalil, the head of Motorola’s North American business, said that the allure of Moto Mods has helped increase sales of Verizon’s Moto Z smartphone. Indeed, Kalil said that sales of the Moto Z at Verizon have increased by 50 percent in February since the device first launched with the carrier last year. He said that typical smartphone sales begin to decline shortly after the gadget’s launch, but he said that the success of the company’s Moto Mod accessories is helping to drive continued interest among Verizon shoppers in the Moto Z.

“We are bringing a device that improves with time,” with the addition of new Moto Mods, Kalil said.

While Kalil declined to confirm whether Motorola would expand its sales in the United States to other carriers beyond Verizon, he said that the company “expects to increase volumes” in the U.S. market, and that it would do so in part through growing its scale. He said to “stay tuned” on whether the company would announce additional carrier partners in the U.S.

In other Motorola news, the company announced that, later this year, it would release a Moto Mod with support for Amazon’s Alexa personal digital assistant. And Motorola also said that later this year it would build phones with “deep integration” of Amazon’s Alexa. Kalil explained that Amazon’s Alexa would live alongside Google’s own digital assistant that’s built into its Android operating system; users will be able to toggle between the two by saying either “Google” or “Alexa” before their voice commands.

Once a mobile phone superstar with the Razr flip-phone, Motorola has struggled with sluggish sales since. The company was purchased by Google in 2012 and then sold to Lenovo in 2014. In the United States, Motorola has had a long and successful relationship with Verizon; Motorola was the company that first brought Android-powered, “Droid”-branded phones to the nation’s largest wireless network operator.

Motorola executives noted the company is the world’s fourth-largest smartphone vendor if you don’t count China, and they hope to surpass LG in sales, which would be ranked third globally if you don’t count China.