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Matsushita Plans Local Flat-Screen Tube Production

Matsushita Electric Industrial Co Ltd (MEI) of Japan plans to manufacture cathode ray tubes (CRT) for flat-screen televisions in Malaysia this year, its first such plant outside Japan. The highly automated plant is likely to be situated within the current premises of the group's TV assembly plant in Shah Alam, just outside the capital city.

MEI president Yoichi Morishita told local media during a press tour in Japan that the investment to be incurred was in addition to the current US$105-118 million the company spends annually in Malaysia. "We are making Malaysia a priority in our operations in Asia," he said, and added the fixed exchange rate Malaysia imposed since September 1998 was a stabilizing factor for export-oriented multinationals.

Matsushita's Malaysian subsidiary has been assembling flat-screen TVs with Japanese-made tubes since last September. Ninety percent of production is for export mainly to Asian countries and the Middle East. It also produces CRTs for normal screen TVs and computer monitors.

Bunroku Morioka, managing director of Matsushita unit National Panasonic (M) Sdn Bhd said the capital injection for the new plant is likely to be "substantial," mainly because picture tubes were the highest cost component for TVs, comprising about 60% of total production.

The Matsushita group is well-established with a 35-year history in Malaysia. It comprises 21 companies, and manufactures a diversified range of electrical and electronic consumer products under the National, Panasonic and Technics brand names. The group employs 30,000 people in the country and its annual turnover is estimated at US$2.2 billion.

Global Vision

Speaking on the vision for the Matsushita group worldwide, Morishita said that with the wider use of the Internet, the company was looking to invent more "network appliances" for the 21st century. He said the company's Networking Appliance Concept Creation Project is working towards producing such concept products to address new sophisticated demands.

Morishita expressed optimism that the company can stay competitive in the new age and help form a "ubiquitous networked society." "IT is expanding throughout the world at an accelerating pace and the world is becoming borderless. The age of restricting the use of a product to a certain place or time is gone. We want a product which will link us everywhere and everytime," he said.

"There is also a shift from a PC-based Internet to a non-PC-centric Internet use. At present, our mobile phone factory in Kakegawa incorporates the latest i-mode feature in handsets which allows users to do many non-PC Internet-based activities such as electronic music services. These are the early signs on the wide use of non-PC Internet."

Matsushita also aims to strengthen its overseas operations, which contributes over half of its consolidated annual sales revenues. In Asia, apart from Malaysia, Matsushita is established in Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and China. Morishita singled out Malaysia as a focal point for continued future investments particularly because of opportunities offered via its Multimedia Super Corridor initiative. "In the next 20 years, Malaysia will still be our priority for investment," Morishita said.

(Julian Matthews, Kuala Lumpur: April 2000 Issue, Nikkei Electronics Asia)

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