Chances are if you use a mobile phone equipped with a camera, it’s powered by a Sanyo battery.

Osaka-based home appliance manufacturer Sanyo Electric Co. is one of the world’s largest battery manufacturers, accounting for nearly half of those in all mobile phones.

“We have been building up our market position for about 40 years,” said Fumitoshi Terashima, general manager of mobile energy in Sanyo Electric’s component group.

Sanyo’s rechargeable battery types range from nickel-cadmium, the oldest, to the more powerful nickel-metal hydride to lithium-ion, which is most suitable for the latest mobile phones.

Sanyo Electric currently produces about 50 million nickel-cadmium batteries a month, accounting for some 45 percent in the world market, and some 50 million nickel-metal hydride batteries a month, a 60 percent market share, Terashima said.

Sanyo also produces 33 million lithium-ion batteries a month, accounting for 45 percent in the global market, he added.

Sanyo Electric’s success in the battery business can be attributed to the late Sanyo founder Toshio Iue’s decision to make that segment the firm’s core business, Terashima said, adding, “In those days, Sanyo Electric had a few competitors in the battery business, but (Iue) also realized the great potential of the business.”

Sanyo Electric started out in 1964 by producing nickel-cadmium batteries. The company established worldwide battery sales networks in the 1970s by first setting up a sales office in the United States in 1973, a factory in Hong Kong in 1974 and a sales office in Germany in 1975.

“We built up and upgraded the production and sales networks of our battery products all over the world in the 1970s and 1980s,” Terashima said.

In the 1990s, more and more customers wanted Sanyo Electric to produce more powerful and compact batteries, reflecting the growth in sales of such new products as personal computers and video cameras, he recalled.

To meet the growing demand, Sanyo in 1990 debuted the world’s first nickel-metal hydride batteries, and in 1994, it started selling lithium-ion versions.

In 1999, Sanyo Electric developed the lithium polymer battery, which is suitable for mobile phones because of its small size.

“We have been developing more powerful and compact batteries to cope with the diffusion of such new products as mobile phones equipped with cameras and digital cameras,” Terashima said.

Sanyo Electric plans to put on the market by 2006 its next-generation lithium-ion battery, which is 1.5-times more powerful than current models.

The company has also been developing environment-friendly batteries, including solar batteries and battery systems for hybrid electric vehicles, using the research facility it set up in Kobe in May 2002, Sanyo Energy Research and Development Center, to this end.

“It is one of the world’s largest battery research laboratories, devoted to the development of the latest technology,” Terashima said.

To expand battery production, Sanyo Electric plans to invest 26.8 billion yen to the battery business in the 2003 business year, hoping to see by the end of that time monthly output of 43 million lithium-ion batteries.

Sanyo Electric has battery production bases in China, Mexico, Hungary and Japan. The firm plans to expand the business particularly in China, where the market is expected to grow dramatically in accordance with the rise in the standard of living.

At present, Sanyo Electric operates battery factories in Beijing, Shenzhen, Suzhou and Tianjin. The Beijing plant, for example, produces lithium-ion and lithium polymer batteries, while the Tianjin factory is a production base for nickel-metal hydride batteries.

“The Chinese market is very attractive in terms of sales and production, so we plan to upgrade the battery business further in China,” Terashima said.

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