Thu, Jan 26, 2006 - Page 11 News List

Sony's iconic Walkman no longer made in Japan

NOTHING IS SACRED The Walkman's symbolic value was not enough to prevent Sony from shifting production of the device to other Asian nations


The Walkman, the iconic Japanese electronic gadget, will no longer be made in Japan, Sony Corp announced yesterday, shifting the last production of the portable jukebox to China and Malaysia.

Sony will close its MD and CD player Walkman production lines at its Saitama Tech factory north of Tokyo by March next year, company spokeswoman Saori Takahashi said.

The factory produced Sony's first Walkman tape cassette players in 1979, which revolutionized the way the world listened to music at the start of the music-video era.

Sony, which has been struggling in the face of Apple Computer Inc's phenomenally popular iPod, will cut 200 jobs at the plant.

"The decision was based on our company's idea that we will concentrate on production in the best possible places in the world," Takahashi said.

Sony, like other Japanese companies, has increasingly relied on other Asian nations, particularly China, as hubs for low-cost manufacturing.

"The Walkman has long been a symbolic and strategic product for Sony, but it has now turned into just one item that should be produced overseas due to labor costs," said Masayuki Hoshina, an analyst at Okasan Research Institute.

"Japanese manufacturers will further differentiate high-value added products and low-value added ones," Hoshina said. "The former remain at home and the latter will be sent overseas. Such a trend will continue in the future, too."

Sony separately said it would also end production of cathode-ray tube displays in the US this year.

It will close its San Diego plant in June and lay off 400 employees there while ending production at its factory in Pittsburgh in February with 300 job losses.

It will focus on its production of cathode-ray tube displays in Singapore and China, Takahashi said.

In September last year, Howard Stringer, a Welsh-born former television journalist who is Sony's first foreign boss, announced a major overhaul of the business including 10,000 job cuts as the company struggles to cope with intense competition in key markets.

Sony has increasingly tried to repackage the Walkman, last year for example trying to target a younger crowd with a Walkman that looks like a jelly bean.

Sony has forecast shipments of the Walkman series at 13.85 million units for the year to March, up from 11.94 million the previous fiscal year.

Sony posted a net profit of ¥28.5 billion (US$247 million) for the three months to September, down 46.5 percent from a year earlier as restructuring charges of ¥32.9 billion contributed to the slide.

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