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Panasonic Sees Double-Digit Sales Growth

The rough state of the worldwide economy did not deter Don Iwatani, chairman and CEO of Matsushita Electric Corporation of America, from projecting that his company would post a 10 percent increase in sales for this year, followed by similar increases in the following two years.

During the company’s International CES press conference, here, Iwatani conveyed that optimism, which is derived from the fact that Panasonic’s consumer business in North America has been strong. Andy Takani, president of Matsushita’s Panasonic Consumer Electronics Co., said the company’s sales experienced double-digit growth during the holiday selling period, despite some projections that it would suffer a 10 percent fall off.

“At the last CES, I was optimistic looking forward, but then the new-economy bubble burst, then the 9/11 happened, then the Argentina economy [disintegrated], but through all the bad news I have been happily surprised by our consumer business in America and Canada,” Iwatani said.

On the product side, Panasonic made introductions yesterday across all its lines.

The company’s theme for the 2002 products is flat and thin. This industrial design theory was carried through on most of its video and audio offerings.

Mike Aguilar, Panasonic’s senior merchandising VP, showed a 45-inch LCD 720p TV shipping in March with a suggested retail price under $4,000. In addition, a 50-inch flat screen will ship at some point this year and a 60-inch plasma model should be ready for retail by the first quarter of 2003.

Panasonic will add several new models in its Palmcorder Multicam line, including PV-DV852 and the PV-DV952, which are shipping in April with respective suggested retail prices of $1,599 and $2,199. Both utilize Leica optical technology and can take megapixel-level digital still images. Panasonic in the next quarter will add more analog and digital camcorders as well, including the PV-L352, PV-L552, PV-L452 and PV-L652. All ship in January and February with suggested prices ranging from $329 to $449. Two of the upcoming digital models are the PV-DV602 and PV-DV702 with prices of $999 and $1,099.

In audio, Panasonic will raise the profiles of Windows Media Audio (WMA), MP3 and DVD-Audio in its 2002 product line.

Panasonic said it will significantly increase its DVD-Audio commitment this year by doubling its SKU count of all DVD-Audio-equipped products, including component and portable DVD players and DVD-equipped home-theater-in-a-box (HTiB) systems. DVD-Audio will appear for the first time in Panasonic’s DVD-equipped HTiB systems. DVD-Audio will also be incorporated for the first time in a Panasonic five-disc DVD changer due later this year. The company never shipped a DVD-A/V changer unveiled last year for 2001 delivery.

Panasonic will also add Windows Media Audio (WMA) CD-R/RW playback to DVD players for the first time, mating the technology with MP3-CD playback in all new DVD players and recorders due this year. In home and portable electronics, Panasonic previously offered WMA only in a single Internet audio portable available since October. MP3-CD playback is already available in most Panasonic DVD players.

The company will also include MP3 playback for the first time in four new Triple Play TV/DVD/VCR combinations, and MP3 and AAC playback are part of two new e-wear series portable media players due in March at a suggested $449 each. Both are youth-oriented.

One of the media players, the SV-AV10, is a 4-in-1 A/V recorder/player combining digital voice recorder, still camera, MPEG-4 video camera and music player. Due in March, it’s equipped with 2-inch LCD screen. It stores content on supplied removable 64MB SD memory card and on planned new optional 512MB cards at a suggested $549 and 256MB cards at a suggested $279. They’re due in the spring. Additional 64MB cards are now a suggested $69 from $99. Plans call for a 1GB card in 2002.

The second e-wear media player, the SD Viewer, plays AAC and MP3 music through headphones and MPEG-4 video through its 1.8-inch LCD screen. Through its docking station, it records video off TVs and home movies off a VCR for storage on the supplied 64MB SD card and on optional cards.