Taiwanese flat-panel makers say they are comfortable with their business model of making liquid-crystal-display (LCD) components at home, assembling them into panels by adding backlights, chips and frames in labor-efficient Chinese plants, before exporting them to customers in the US, Europe and Asia.
This long-standing approach helped local companies avoid technology leakage and cut expenses during the industry’s boom period.
However, annual sales growth in the LCD industry will slow to less than the composite annual average of 3 percent over the next few years to 2015, from 9 percent during the period from 2002 to last year, market researcher DisplaySearch projected.
Therefore, the world’s major LCD panel makers are turning to fast-growing emerging markets, China in particular, to seek a new growth engine.
To compete with their rivals, mainly from Sough Korea and Japan, Taiwanese panel makers need to rethink their China strategy and build a greater presence there, especially since they suffered the brunt of the recent industry downturn, which curtailed demand because of a supply glut and the economic maelstrom stemming from the US credit crisis, analysts said.
“Taiwanese companies tried hard to win orders from the world’s major TV brands, especially from Japanese companies, but the results were unsatisfactory because they also source panels from their panel ventures. Now local companies are forced to take a more serious look at the Chinese market,” said Roger Yu (游智超), a flat-panel industry analyst with Polaris Securities Co (寶來證券).
Shipments of flat-panel TVs, mostly LCD TVs, in China may grow 30 percent annually to more than 20 million units this year, compared with a 1 percent to 2 percent increase in developed countries such as North America, Western Europe and Japan, the latest report by DisplaySearch showed.
“Taiwanese companies need to find a better exit for their products,” Yu said.
Chen Hsuen-bin (陳炫彬), vice chairman of AU Optronics Corp (友達光電), Taiwan’s largest LCD-panel maker, told investors that the company received rush orders because of China’s policy of subsidizing the purchase in rural areas of a wide range of electronics.
“Demand from China may be the main factor that stabilized [falling] panel shipments,” Chen said in January.
His comments proved true, as AU Optronics TV said its PC panel shipments had fallen by a slower-than-expected 13 percent quarter-on-quarter rather than the 15 percent to 20 percent it had expected. Smaller local rival Chi Mei Optoelectronic Corp (奇美電子) also said sales from the China market may make up a bigger share of its revenues this year, between 25 percent and 35 percent, compared with 15 percent to 20 percent last year.
“China is a virgin market for panel makers ... Current purchase agreements between Taiwanese companies and Chinese TV makers are not good enough to drive the next wave of growth for local firms,” said Jim Chung (鍾俊元), a flat-panel industry analyst with the government-funded Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI, 工研院).
AU Optronics and Chi Mei are supplying flat panelss to a number of Chinese TV brands including TCL Group and Hisense (海信), Chung’s survey showed.
Chung suggested building next-generation — seventh-generation or 8.5-generation — panel factories in collaboration with Chinese panel makers because China’s local governments were in intense talks with overseas panel makers to jointly invest in new plants as part of their efforts to rescue local flat-panel makers such as Shanghai SVA-NEC LCD Co.