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Aiwa Wants More Audio, Video Share

By Joseph Palenchar & Greg Tarr

Aiwa is gunning for number-one market share in units in combined sales of home and portable audio in 2000, and a greater share of the TV and video market, executives said on the eve of CES.

The company currently claims number-two status behind Sony in combined home/portable sales in the United States, number-one share in the shelf system market and second place in portable audio.

In two to three years, said Aiwa senior marketing VP Akio Imanishi, the company wants TV and video in the United States to account for 10 percent of its sales, with 85 percent coming from home and portable audio and 5 percent from car stereo.

Worldwide sales for the 49-year-old company are running at $3.4 billion to $3.5 billion but in fiscal year 2002 the company’s goal is to hit $5 billion, said Aiwa America president Yukio Yamamoto.

To help achieve its goals, Aiwa is launching an expanded TV/video line that offers seven DVD players. This includes: one stand-alone DVD player priced at a suggested retail of $400; a 20-inch three-disc TV/DVD combo unit featuring a flat-faced, direct-view tube at $850; a Hi-Fi TV/VCR combo with the same tube at $650; and another version using a conventional tube at $500.

Also new to the stand-alone TV line is a stereo direct-view analog set featuring an unusual flat-faced, 24-inch (4:3) tube at a suggested $650. Aiwa sources the new flat-faced tubes from Toshiba.

Other new video products include a 13-inch Hi-Fi VCR/TV at $400 and a 13-inch four-head mono unit at $350.

In leveraging its shelf system market share, the company is building DVD players into three shelf systems. Two come with three-disc DVD changers and the third is an executive-style microsystem incorporating a single-deck DVD player and 5.8-inch LCD screen.

To further increase its audio share, the company plans to tap into the burgeoning demand for audio CD recorders while scaling back its MiniDisc commitment. Two Aiwa shelf systems will incorporate CD recorders for the first time and the company is launching its first minisize component recorder for use with some of its minisystems.

To support the CD-RW format, Aiwa is adding CD-RW disc compatibility to all of its new home, portable and car CD players and DVD players.

Although Aiwa is introducing new portable MD players, none of its new shelf systems will incorporate MD. “Shelf systems are moving to CD-R/RW,” Imanishi said. Also new are the company’s first headphone CD players with 48-second anti-shock memory.

Other new product categories are also in Aiwa’s future, Imanishi said. They include:

  • DVD-Audio, SACD: Although it’s doubtful Aiwa will ship DVD-Audio or SACD in the United States in 2000, Imanishi said “both are under development.”
  • MP3: The company is unveiling a car CD-receiver that will play back recordable CDs encoded with MP3 files and, when it ships in June, possibly an additional Internet audio codec. Aiwa, however, is holding off the introduction of portables and shelf systems equipped with Internet audio decoding until the second half at the earliest.

Aiwa “is not rushing” to bring out product, because despite all the buzz, the technology will “not necessarily be a big business immediately,” Imanishi said.

Nonetheless, he said sees “quite a strong possibility” that Aiwa will launch portables and shelf systems in 2000, “probably after the summer.”

Although Aiwa sees the most potential in Internet audio products that play back CDs, it also sees potential for saving music files in solid-state memory. Along with being a Memory Stick licensee, the company also will “look at SmartMedia and other [solid-state] formats” for audio, depending on consumer demand, Imanishi said.