Japan's biggest independent distributor of electronic components, MARUBUN CORP., and the world's largest electronics distributor, ARROW ELECTRONICS, INC., have agreed to form an equal partnership to exclusively serve Japanese companies in North America and in Asia outside Japan. The unprecedented pairing in the electronics distribution field is the result of three years of talks. They were initiated by Melville, New York-headquartered Arrow after concluding that it never would be able to get in the door of many Japanese multinationals without a connected partner. The North American operations of the Marubun/Arrow joint venture will start in the first quarter of 1999. The primary sales and marketing offices will be in San Diego and San Jose, California, with satellite offices in Portland, Oregon and Atlanta. The Asian part of the business will begin late this year. Singapore and Hong Kong will be the sites of the main sales offices. Marubun/Arrow will start off with about 100 customers in North America and 50 in Asia. These companies now do business with one or the other partner or both.
The first digital television sets are in stores, including a 56-inch, high- definition model from the PANASONIC CONSUMER ELECTRONICS CO. unit of MATSUSHITA ELECTRIC INDUSTRIAL CO., LTD. (see Japan-U.S. Business Report No. 345, June 1998, p. 3). TOSHIBA CORP. hopes that customers curious about the new technology also will take a look at its IT Vision interactive sets, which will be introduced in October. These sets, the first of their kind to arrive in the United States, use an engine or adapter developed by WINK COMMUNICATIONS, INC. of Alameda, California to tap into the information stream transmitted by broadcasters in the vertical blanking interval of each TV frame. In Japan, broadcasters use the IT Vision technology for television shopping and other services. In this country, the NATIONAL BROADCASTING CO. is starting IT Vision broadcasting. Toshiba hopes to parlay this launch into sales of 5,000 IT Vision sets in FY 1998 and 50,000 or so in FY 1999.
PIONEER ELECTRONIC CORP. has raised the bar in plasma display panels for public venue communications with the release of the PDP-V501X. Less than four inches deep and weighing under 95 pounds, the 50-inch diagonal screen can reproduce true XGA (extended graphics array) computer image resolution and is compatible with both high-definition and standard- definition television signals. PIONEER NEW MEDIA TECHNOLOGIES, INC. priced the PDP at $15,200. It is forecasting sales of 500 units a month.
In the latest reorganization of its North American video game operations, SEGA ENTERPRISES, LTD. will buy the commercial video game machine marketing division of SEGA GAMEWORKS L.L.C. The latter company was formed in April 1996 by Sega (46 percent), MCA INC. (27 percent) and DREAMWORKS SKG (27 percent) to open a projected 100 amusement centers in the United States over five years, but it has just five in operation. The divestiture of the marketing unit, which had sales of roughly $80 million in FY 1997, not only will pump cash into Sega GameWorks but will allow it to concentrate on opening and managing amusement centers. Sega's wholly owned Redwood City, California subsidiary will market video game machines to arcades.
An Americanized version of the Lovegety portable communications device one of this year's hit products in Japan, especially among young men and women interested in meeting each other will be in stores in early December at a price of less than $20. Users select one of six subjects, such as party. The Lovegety II sends out a signal. If someone in the vicinity also has chosen party, the machine starts to beep when the two people are within about 16 feet of each other. Developer ERFOLG CO., LTD. of Tokyo apparently believes that Lovegety II will duplicate the success of the original since it is projecting yearly sales of 1 million units.
Unable to build a market for its home-oriented acoustical relaxation chairs, BODYSONIC CO., LTD. liquidated its Las Vegas, Nevada marketing subsidiary. The Tokyo company sold its interest to a Singapore investment company that was a partner in the venture.
Convinced that fuel cells not only are the most promising power source for electric cars but also are technically possible, TOSHIBA CORP. and UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORP. will collaborate on commercializing this technology. With input from the automotive industry, they plan to develop by 2000 a small fuel cell capable of generating 50 kilowatts of electricity. The product, which will be twice as energy efficient as a gasoline engine, could enter production in 2003. Toshiba and UTC have formed a company to carry out the work, with the Japanese partner having a roughly 10 percent share in the venture. Since mid-1991, the two have built 200-watt fuel cells for plant and office electricity generation through equally owned INTERNATIONAL FUEL CELLS CORP. of South Windsor, Connecticut.
An exchange rate of ¥145=$1.00 was used in this report.