January 9, 2014 2:25 am JST

Sony to target U.S., China in smartphone offensive

SHUNSUKE TABETA, Nikkei staff writer

CEO Kazuo Hirai

LAS VEGAS -- Sony will ramp up marketing of smartphones in the U.S. and China, aiming to double its global sales volume in two years, according to Chief Executive Officer Kazuo Hirai.

     "We've built the foundations in Japan and Europe," Hirai said in an interview with The Nikkei here, where the Consumer Electronics Show kicked off Tuesday. He explained that a joint venture with Sweden's Ericsson that Sony turned into a wholly owned subsidiary at the start of 2012 has spearheaded such efforts. "From now on, we'll put more resources into the U.S. and Chinese markets," he added.

     In China, the electronics maker began supplying handsets designed specifically for mobile carrier China Mobile at the end of last year. And in the U.S., it has been shipping new smartphones to T-Mobile U.S., the country's No. 4 carrier.

     "I can't share detailed plans. But now that we've decided to go on the offensive, we'll put money and people into those markets," he said. "I hope you'll see the results in a year." The company plans to cultivate its customer base and offer a broader variety of handsets to increase sales. 

     For the year ending March 31, Sony plans to ship 42 million smartphones, roughly double the figure from two years earlier. "We hope to maintain the same growth pace as the past two years," Hirai said on the plans for the next two years. The firm aims to ship more than 80 million handsets in fiscal 2015, tapping demand from emerging economies as well as the U.S. and China, according to Hirai.

     Apple and Samsung Electronics are by far the largest smartphone suppliers in terms of market share. But from No. 3 Huawei Technologies on down, the share differences are much more narrow. Sony is apparently seventh, and the immediate goal is to leapfrog to No. 3.

     To boost consumer appeal, Sony will offer high-performance cameras on its handsets, leveraging its position as the world's top provider of digital camera image sensors. The firm will also beef up content services for the handsets, capitalizing on its entertainment wing's ownership of movie and music titles.

     Hirai noted that the company has decided not to sell off its battery business in light of the key role the components play in smartphones. Battery "technologies that set us apart from rivals will be important," he said, adding that Sony batteries are highly regarded by customers.

     Meanwhile, earnings are improving rapidly at Sony's television operations, Hirai noted. The firm had considered withdrawing from this market if the business were to bleed red ink this fiscal year, but that possibility is now unlikely. It will pursue profit growth by merging content services with the hardware, he said.