TV Makers Gear Up for the Bigger Picture

SAN DIEGO COUNTY BUSINESS EDITOR

With television sets getting increasingly larger and cheaper, major manufacturers are gearing up to meet what they expect will be intense demand for sets with large screens.

Toshiba, Matsushita, Thomson Consumer Electronics and, most recently, Sony each have announced plans to build new plants or expand existing plants in the United States to supply demand for large TVs, which are defined by industry observers as those with screens 30 inches or larger. French-owned Thomson makes RCA and General Electric brand TVs.

At the heart of the large-TV phenomenon is consumers' desire for better picture quality, particularly to watch videocassettes. And technology called Improved Definition Television, now available, delivers roughly four times better resolution than older sets, said David Lachenbruch, editorial director of Washington-based Television Digest, an industry newsletter that follows TV sales trends.

Price is still a barrier, with top-of-the-line Sony 32-inch sets retailing for $2,600. But those prices are partly a function of low availability. Lachenbruch and other industry observers expect those prices to drop substantially once supply increases after the new facilities begin operating.

According to Television Digest, sales of televisions with large screens will total only about 300,000 units this year, less than 2% of the 22 million TV sets that will be sold in the U.S. But, by 1995, large TVs will represent 15% to 20% of all TVs sold and half of dollar volume, Lachenbruch said.

Television sales in the U.S. now are dominated by 19-inch and 20-inch models, which are expected to account for 48% of the TVs sold in the United States, Lachenbruch said.

Last Friday, Sony announced plans for a $100-million addition to its San Diego TV manufacturing complex in order to transfer production of 32-inch Trinitron models from Japan. The highly automated addition will employ 220 workers and begin operations next summer, Sony spokesman Stephen Burke said.

Sony now employs 3,600 at its San Diego and Tijuana plants, where the Japanese consumer electronics giant makes the bulk of its 13-inch, 19-inch, 20-inch and 27-inch sets sold to the U.S. market. Sony will ship up to 1.7 million sets locally this year.

Although Sony introduced its 32-inch model just one year ago, it now claims a 20% to 25% share of the large-TV market, Burke said, or 60,000 to 75,000 sets a year. On Friday, Sony Corp. of America Chairman Masaaki Morita said the San Diego plant will be producing 32-inch sets at a rate of 250,000 to 300,000 units a year by the end of 1990.

Toshiba previously announced plans to expand its Horseheads, N.Y., plant to produce 30-inch and 32-inch sets, Lachenbruch said. A joint venture of Matsushita Electric and Philips of The Netherlands is building a plant in Troy, Ohio to make 31-inch TVs. Matsushita makes Panasonic and Quasar brand television sets.

Thomson is expanding its plant in Marion, Ohio, to make 32-inch and 35-inch TV sets.

Thomson is the leading manufacturers of television sets in the United States, controlling

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