Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, scarcely in the chip business at the start of the decade, is now bidding for a place at the top table, says Agence France Presse. The Osaka giant, best known for its consumer electronics products under the Panasonic and National brand names, is the 19th largest company in the world, with […]
Matsushita Electric Industrial Co, scarcely in the chip business at the start of the decade, is now bidding for a place at the top table, says Agence France Presse. The Osaka giant, best known for its consumer electronics products under the Panasonic and National brand names, is the 19th largest company in the world, with turnover of $38,500m last year – and reckons it has already made it up to fourth place in the Japanese ranking of chipmakers, having passed Mitsubishi Electric and, more startlingly, Fujitsu: it now wants to move up to number four in the world, which will mean bypassing Texas Instruments Inc and Motorola Inc, and put it close to the world number three, Hitachi. Mitsubishi is banking on the next generation of memory chips to get it there, its semiconductor chief Hiroy Mizuno saying that each new generation of memory chips has overwhelmed the market leader on the previous generation. Hitachi was passed by NEC Corp, which is now bat tling with Toshiba Corp for top spot, the latter leading the way in 1M-bit circuits. And, in typical Japanese fashion, Matsushita is looking to the long term, laying plans to become number one in the 16M-bit memory market, not the soon-to-arrive 4M-bit parts. And it has laid the groundwork well, being the first to show a prototype of a 16M part. High definition television Why should memory chips be so important to a company that still pays the bills with the return on its enormous consumer electronics business? The answer is high definition television, which will require a large memory in each set – and Matsushita reckons that means memory chips storing more than 10M-bits. At present, 65% of Matsushita’s chips – of all types – go into consumer electronic products, 35% into industrial products, but the company wants to slew the balance further towards the industrial market. At present, 48% of all the chips produced by its Matsushita Electronics affiliate are used by other Matsushita companies, and exports still account for only 13%, making it less vulnerable to the Ramboesque trade warriors in Washington. In the year to March, Matsushita Electronics did $1,630m in chips, and it is looking for $1,810m this year. Investment for new plant and equipment is set at $394m this year, compared with Toshiba’s planned $606m and Hitachi’s $439m. But there is still an enormous gap in the memory chip business between Toshiba, doing 7m 1M-bit parts a month and Matsushita, doing just 250,000. It is racing to expand that to 1m a month by the end of the year and 2m by next spring. And this month it will start sampling 4M bit parts to its customers, but has not yet set a schedule for volume production.
And then there is what is being seen as a re-entry into the computer market, although most people would say that at the low end, the company had never gone away. Things always look different viewed from Japan from the way they look in the US, and from a Japanese viewpoint, Matsushita will start making workstations under licence from Sun Microsystems in November, to be marketed in the US by Solbourne Computer Inc, the Longmont, Colorado firm in which Matsushita has a 52% stake; Solbourne sees its role in the in venture in a rather more dominant light. At all events, Matsushita will soon also have a line for Japan, betting on workstations taking over the market from mainframes.