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No. 366, March 2000

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American Companies in Japan


The Japanese appliance market, especially the home end of the business, has been tough on American competitors, even those teaming with a local company. That track record has not deterred MAYTAG CORP. The number-three U.S. appliance manufacturer has forged a three-part alliance with SANYO ELECTRIC CO., LTD. One thrust is joint development of major home appliances and floor-care products for cooperative marketing in Japan and elsewhere in Asia. Laundry and floor-care products as well as new cooking technologies already are on their list, but the new partners expect their first project will involve work on a high-efficiency washing machine for home use. Another facet of the alliance is mutual product supply. Under this part of the agreement, Sanyo Electric initially will distribute Maytag-brand high- efficiency commercial laundry equipment in Japan. In addition, Maytag and Sanyo Electric, itself a big supplier of appliances, will explore opportunities for joint purchases of parts in order to reduce costs and enhance design efficiencies.

The world's first DVD-Audio disc is the result of a technical collaboration between SONIC SOLUTIONS and PIONEER CORP. The new format is said to deliver unprecedented sound resolution to the listener. It also allows audio programming to be accessed interactively and presented together with video material. To create the DVD-Audio disc, Pioneer made use of Sonic Solutions' software-based DVD-Audio production system, the only such product available. The Novato, California firm's Sonic DVD Creator AV includes SonicStudio HD, a system for high-density audio production, and DVD Producer for authoring DVD Audio titles.

A B2B on-line marketplace for buyers and sellers of electronic components in Japan and other Asian countries could be operational as soon as the third quarter of 2000. Behind the initiative are NEED2BUY.COM, INC., which has sponsored such an exchange for American companies since May 1999, and MITSUBISHI CORP., a participant in the first round of fund-raising for the Westlake Village, California venture (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 364, January 2000, p. 9). With Need2Buy.com putting up 60 percent of the capital, the two formed a company to develop a B2B e-commerce site that is based on the U.S. partner's Internet technology but is tailored to the needs of Asia's electronic components market. Under Need2Buy.com's current solution, OEM buyers of electronic parts post requests for price quotes. Distributors and manufacturers that have signed up with the site then make bids, which the company's expert system screens for compatibility with buyers' requirements.

As soon as this summer, HYPERCOM CORP., a Phoenix, Arizona-based supplier of electronic payment solutions, could launch in Japan a localized version of its Internet-enabled card-payment terminal for retail point-of-sale locations. This product will combine the firm's ePic Internet technology with its ICE family of interactive, touch-screen terminals. In the United States, Hypercom touts the revenue-enhancing services and the efficiency gains that Internet-enabled terminals offer merchants in addition to their traditional card-payment functions. Interestingly, the manufacturer's subsidiary is promoting another benefit of the equipment: prevention of credit-card fraud by retail employees. With the Hypercom Internet- enabled terminal, the image of the receipt for a transaction appears on the screen, and the customer signs it using an electronic pen.

Start-up EVERGREEN SOLAR, INC., a supplier of photovoltaic or solar electric panels that is on the verge of ramping up to full production, is moving into Japan, currently the world's largest market for solar electric panels. Its exclusive marketing partner for both residential and commercial applications is KAWASAKI HEAVY INDUSTRIES, LTD. Evergreen Solar's String Ribbon polycrystalline solar cells are notable for requiring only about half the amount of silicon that competitors, whether Japanese or American, use. That lowers the cost of the panels for either dispersed power applications or complete power systems. In conjunction with the distribution deal, KHI invested $5 million in the Waltham, Massachusetts company as part of a fourth round of private financing that raised $18.4 million.

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