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Kenwood Launches New Brand Strategy

Kenwood launched a new brand direction “to deliver a consistent message to customers” and will maintain its stepped-up R&D effort now that it has enjoyed three consecutive years of profitability, Kenwood Corp.’s [Japan] president Haruo Kawahara said here at International CES.

On the 25th anniversary of the launch of Kenwood car audio in the United States, Kawahara said the Kenwood brand will stand for engineering excellence that delivers converged digital technology and intuitive use to “enhance the enjoyment of life.” Kenwood worldwide is committed to being “a leader in digital entertainment at home and away” through home and mobile multimedia products and digital networking, he said.

Kenwood’s goal is to be “on the same page” in technology and features in all of its markets worldwide, said Kenwood USA’s executive VP Dan Petersen. Although the company has been known for being first to launch new technologies or implementations, Petersen acknowledged, the company now pledges “to be consistent over time” and not launch a new technology “and then drop it.”

The company’s vision is to “reach out to discover, inspire and enhance the enjoyment of life,” and its core values are to “cultivate original thinking and execute with pride, passion and precision,” Kawahara added.

As part of its “Listen to the Future” corporate direction, Kenwood plans an August or September launch of its first home components and HTiBs conforming to the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) network-interoperability requirements. It also plans a late-summer or early-fall launch of the industry’s first universal DVD-Audio/SACD megachanger, a 400-disc model at about a suggested $1,200.

When connected to a companion Ethernet-equipped home theater receiver, dubbed an audio/video control center by Kenwood, the receiver will download and store disc data and cover art accessible from an onscreen user interface. The receiver, which will be the company’s first DLNA-compliant receiver, will retail for an approximate suggested $2,000. Both products will appear at the top end of the company’s mainstream Kenwood series.

In car audio, the company launched five head units with rotary-encoder-driven menus to simplify operation. The company also adopted fluorescent displays on head units to display more text in a legible manner; launched a $99 iPod interface that allows head-unit control of an iPod; and unveiled multiple head units that lets users navigate MP3-, WMA- or AAC-encoded CDs by title, artist or genre. The heads, equipped with Advanced Codec (AC) drives, are bundled with PC software that lets users organize the songs on the discs that they burn.

The company also launched an anniversary XXV Series of car products in piano-black finish.

The products are appearing following what Kawahara called a “dramatic turnaround.” Two years ago, he said, the company suffered a cumulative loss of $428.9 million and was $1.05 billion in debt. In 2002, it had a negative net worth. Today, he said, the company enjoys a positive net worth, has cancelled its cumulative loss, and has reduced its total debt to a third of its level of two years ago. Net income for the fiscal year ending March 2005 was $69.9 million, and fiscal 2005 net income will come in slightly under that because of strategic investments, Kawahara said. Last year, the company launched a $38 million program to invest in product development, brand enhancement and human resources, Kawahara said.

In other home introductions, four new Kenwood-series receivers at a suggested $250 to $600 include the first three receivers outside Kenwood’s slim step-up Fineline receiver series to include Dolby Virtual Surround and Dolby Headphone. Seven-channel amps have been included in three SKUs, up from last year’s one, starting at a street price of $300 vs. a street price of $500.