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Panasonic Turns To China For Appliance Inspiration

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Japan’s Panasonic has indicated that it will turn to China’s minimalist approach when designing its own consumer electronics.

“What we learned from China is to design products with specific capabilities and stripping down unnecessary features,” Asia Nikkei reported Masahiro Shinada, president and CEO of Panasonic Corp., the consumer electronics unit of the Japanese conglomerate, as having said this week.

Shinada said that his company will utilize China’s method of product planning and noted that Panasonic’s Chinese division has already succeeded in slashing manufacturing costs by adopting the Chinese approach.

Panasonic reportedly plans to increase the number of products designed in China and shipped to regions within Southeast Asia.

It also wants more collaboration between its design teams located in China, Japan and Vietnam which instead of focussing on their individual domestic markets will help to devise strategies for foreign markets too.

Panasonic will also increase the number of “shared models” sold across different markets in Asia.

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Around half the products sold in Vietnam or Malaysia, for example, will likely be shared models by September 2026, compared with less than 10 per cent at present, which will likely result in more shipments from China.

The move is made to counter the surge of Chinese rivals such as Haier Group and the Midea Group as well as South Korean manufacturers.

Panasonic’s refrigerators and microwaves lost their leading position in the Japanese market in 2023, knocked off by higher sales of Chinese-made products. This includes companies like Toshiba, which sold its consumer electronics brand to Midea Group in 2016.

Panasonic has identified some areas which remain a stumbling block in it effectively competing against the Chinese. Shigeru Dohno, president of Panasonic’s Living Appliances and Solutions Company, said Japanese manufacturers have long fixated on achieving near perfection during the product planning process, whereas Chinese companies proceed even if the product isn’t perfect. The Japanese approach takes “a huge amount of time to achieve,” Dohno said, adding, “Chinese companies will take risks … because if not, they know that they will be trampled by their rivals.”

Shinada said Japanese designers also often try to include as many features as they can in their products to satisfy customers, but it is also one of the reasons Panasonic’s products were lagging behind Chinese companies such as Haier or Midea.

By attempting to satisfy as wide a demographic as possible when designing products, he said that Japanese-designed products were not focused on specific customers and lacked a clear “definition.”

Some of Panasonic’s minimalist-designed products have met success. Its personal dishwasher, Solota, for example, which is only big enough to handle six pieces of tableware at a time and targets younger people living alone, and exceeded its initial sales target by 40 per cent in 2023.

Panasonic is likely to miss its original target of raising its EBITDA by 71 per cent in the three years ending in March 2025. The company now forecasts a 24 per cent increase for the period.

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