December 4, 2013 2:00 am JST

Sony aims to buy Renesas chip fab, convert it to camera sensors

TOKYO -- Sony seeks to purchase Renesas Electronics' main chip fabrication facility and use it to make image sensors for smartphone and other devices, a field in which it is the global leader, The Nikkei learned Tuesday.

     The two sides are expected to sign a memorandum of understanding as early as the beginning of next week. If negotiations proceed smoothly, Sony will acquire shares in the Renesas unit that operates the Tsuruoka plant in Yamagata Prefecture by March 31. Sony is also expected to take on some of the 900 or so workers at the factory.

     Sony hopes to use the plant to fabricate CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) sensors, a key component that determines the quality of images shot on smartphones and digital cameras. It controls roughly 30% of the global market in this field, and its sensors can be found in Apple's iPhone and other smartphones. Sony President Kazuo Hirai has positioned CMOS sensors as one of the pillars of the firm's growth.

     The plant is expected to fetch about 10 billion yen ($96 million). Sony aims to keep the price low as it restructures its money-losing electronics business.

     Renesas is undergoing rehabilitation, having received an investment from the government-backed Innovation Network Corp. of Japan. It had announced earlier that it will shut down the cutting-edge Tsuruoka plant, which has a low operating rate, within two to three years.