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OSAKA (Kyodo) Consumer electronics giant Panasonic Corp. has made Sanyo Electric Co. and Panasonic Electric Works Co. wholly owned units, creating a huge electronics group comprising some 380,000 employees.

To succeed, the Osaka-based company must capitalize on Sanyo’s strengths — home electronics and batteries — while adding to Panasonic Electric’s lineup of lighting products, home appliances and building materials.

One litmus test for success will be the fast-growing Vietnamese market, where Sanyo’s home appliances are popular. Plans are in place to phase out the Sanyo brand name by next April.

Though Sanyo holds a top market share in refrigerators and washing machines in the country, the brand is likely to be folded into Panasonic.

Cao Kim Thanh, 38, who was shopping for a refrigerator at an appliance store in Hanoi, said she has confidence in Sanyo-made products, having used Sanyo refrigerators and rice cookers for a long time because of their high quality.

Some customers voiced dissatisfaction with the loss of the Sanyo brand, with one saying, “I will not buy products if they will be sold under the Panasonic brand.”

But Shinichi Wakita, president of Panasonic’s local unit, expressed confidence.

“It was difficult when we integrated the National brand into Panasonic. We can absolutely overcome the challenge again this time,” Wakita said.

In a bid to prosper in the Vietnamese market, Panasonic has been increasing the number of appliance stores it partners with and training employees to hone their sales technique.

To help spread the Panasonic brand, the company opened the communication facility Panasonic Risupia Vietnam in Hanoi last September to let children experience the fun of science and mathematics. The facility proved popular with elementary and junior high school students, drawing more than 20,000 visitors by the end of February.

Another challenge for Panasonic lies in whether it can continue to produce popular items like Sanyo’s smash-hit Gopan rice-bread cooker.

Masayuki Shimozawa, 63, who developed the Gopan before retiring from Sanyo, said he brought eight bread cookers to his house and baked bread all day as research.

“The company let us work freely, not restricting us with (concerns about) efficiency,” he said.

Journalist Tomoyo Nonaka, who served as chairwoman of Sanyo from 2005 to 2007, when the company faced financial difficulties, said she wants Panasonic to take advantage of competent Sanyo employees.

“I felt the strength of (employees) working on the site, because engineers have ambitions,” she said. “Sanyo has excellent staff who can contribute to the future of the Earth.”

One Panasonic official said, “We can produce a better product lineup if we are able to capitalize on the good aspects of Sanyo.”

Journalist Masamichi Ogi, who follows the electronics industry, suggested the two could face hurdles in integrating in a way that further enhances Sanyo’s strengths to make creative products.

“The corporate culture of Sanyo differs from that of Panasonic, where conservatism reigns, a factor not so conducive to creating unique products,” he said. But he also noted Sanyo’s liberal approach had led the company to experience management problems.

By making Sanyo a wholly owned unit Friday, Panasonic aims to boost its environmental and energy business by adding the company’s solar and lithium-ion batteries to its product lineup.

“It is revolutionary that Sanyo’s solar batteries will be added to our products. Now we have everything,” said Yukio Nakashima, a Panasonic executive who is in charge of product strategy.

One Panasonic group store operator welcomed selling Sanyo-made solar batteries, which will carry the Panasonic brand.

“The batteries are salable because of their high performance,” the store operator said.

The company now aims to make the products more competitive by bringing down prices by reducing manufacturing costs.

“We will proceed with energy saving in manufacturing using Panasonic’s knowhow,” said Tetsuhiro Maeda, in charge of the solar division of Sanyo.

As for Sanyo’s lithium-ion batteries, Panasonic will face fast-growing foreign competitors like South Korea’s Samsung SDI Co., which dethroned Sanyo as the top manufacturer in the global market in 2010.

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