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Plasma Is Key To Panasonic’s Brand Effort

Panasonic this year will seek to further enhance its strategic position as the leading brand for high-definition plasma displays in North America, Yoshi Yamada, Panasonic Corporation of North America’s chairman, vowed in a CES-eve press conference, here.

Yamada reported that Panasonic’s sister company, the Matsushita Plasma Display Panel Co., last month completed the expansion of plasma manufacturing operations at its second plant in Osaka, Japan, raising its production capacity to 100,000 units a month.

The expansion was completed four months ahead of schedule, Yamada said. The additional capacity gave the company a total plasma production capability of 150,000 units a month. In addition, a new plasma production plant is being constructed and is scheduled to go online in November 2005, enabling a doubling of total plasma production capability by March of 2006 to 2 million units per year.

Yamada said the additional capacity should raise Panasonic’s share of the global plasma market to 40 percent, “taking into account picture quality, cost of production and consumer taste.”

“Panasonic is absolutely convinced that plasma displays are going to be big winners in large-screen high-definition TVs,” Yamada said.

Martin Kono, Panasonic’s president, said the company will stay atop new competitive challenges this year by becoming a “more focused organization that will improve its business processes and optimize [its] approach to the market.”

Over the last six months, Panasonic “has been making many wholesale changes to our business structure and business processes to stay ahead of the curve.” He said Panasonic is emerging as a “greatly energized, more focused company that is in a much better position to work closely with our channel partners.”

In that effort, Kono reminded the audience that Dave Bearden was promoted to president of Panasonic Sales Company, while John Iacoviello was promoted to consumer product and marketing operations senior VP, as of Jan 1. (See story above.)

Both are charged with working with channel partners to ensure new products sell through effectively. In addition, Kono said Panasonic will increase its spending on advertising and promotion in the coming year to reinforce the gains made from 2004 programs.

Kono said Panasonic has also entered some strategic partnerships to promote and advance various product categories, including a deal struck with HP through which Panasonic is adding support of the DVD+R recordable disc format to its DIGA DVD recorders, while HP will add read and write support for the DVD-RAM format to its consumer desk top PCs.

Panasonic will add DVD+R read and write capability to three DIGA DVD recorder models in 2005. With the addition, all three decks will read and write to the DVD-RAM/-R, DVD+R and DVD-RW formats. They will also playback DVD+RW discs, DVD-Audio, audio and video CDs, and MP3 and JPEG formatted discs.

Through the alliance, owners of Panasonic DVD-RAM camcorders will be able to edit video directly from a DVD-RAM camcorder disc on a new HP desktop PC.

“By making our products more compatible and user friendly, we want to meet consumers’ expectations so they can start enjoying the fun of DVD recording,” Kono said.

Iacoviello said Panasonic will expand its plasma assortment this year with five VIERA HD models in the 37W-inch, 42W-inch and 50W-inch screen sizes. All feature integrated digital tuners and offer a 30 percent increase in horizontal resolution. All will produce 8.6 billion colors and add HDMI digital inputs.

In LCD TV, the company will add four high definition models in the 19W-inch, 23W-inch, 26W-inch and 32W-inch screen sizes. Also being added is a 20-inch 4:3 EDTV model.

Panasonic is introducing here its first 1,080p high-definition rear-projection HDTV set, based on LCD technology. Model PT-61LCX85 will feature a 61W-inch screen size. At the same time, Panasonic will launch next-generation DLP rear-projection HDTV sets in the 61W-inch and 56W-inch screen sizes, Iacoviello said.

“We call [the DLP sets] HD multimedia displays because they are equipped with so many inputs for content,” said Iacoviello, “everything from SD memory card, PC card, RGB PC inputs, HDMI and more,” he said.