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Business

Electronics maker now wants to sell whole towns

Early-stage releases of the Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town project met with strong demand.

TOKYO -- As its first 100 years draw to a close, Panasonic is looking to drive growth in its second century by building homes and even whole towns, then filling them with its appliances and other products.

     The company on Thursday officially unveiled The Fujisawa Sustainable Smart Town, in Kanagawa Prefecture, just southwest of Tokyo. The development is to be one of Japan's biggest smart city projects with detached homes. Panasonic hopes the pilot project will give it a blueprint for future business growth around the world.

Call it home

"Today marks the birthday of our company's founder, Konosuke Matsushita," Panasonic Executive Officer Masahiro Ido said. "We have been developing this town to last for 100 years. We will apply this business model all around the globe."

     The town has been going up on a piece of land formerly occupied by a factory that used to make refrigerators and other things for the home. To be completed in 2018, the development is to include 600 houses and 400 condominium units as well as commercial and communal facilities. Roughly 3,000 people are expected to call the place home.

     The property is about 2km from East Japan Railway's Fujisawa Station. "The first-stage releases sold quickly," Tomohiko Miyahara, president of Fujisawa SST Management, said.

     Detached homes start from around 50 million yen ($419,360) and go for more than 60 million yen. Buyers have already snapped up 120 units.

     Fujisawa SST's biggest selling point is its environmental friendliness. A goal is to bring down the community's carbon dioxide emissions to 70% below what its 1990 levels would have been. All homes are equipped with solar panels and storage batteries. The equipment not only makes it possible for residents to sell surplus power and generate extra income but also to provide emergency backup power in case of a natural disaster.

     The town will also have a network of surveillance cameras installed in street lamps using light-emitting diodes.

The whole shebang

Most of the appliances, equipment and materials are supplied by the Panasonic group. The project is forecast to generate a total of 40 billion yen in sales over the first 30 years, when revenue from health management support and other services are included.

     This seems like an insignificant amount for a company with more than 7.7 trillion yen in group sales. But the business model of "selling the entire town" is a highly attractive prospect for a company whose myriad products are facing an onslaught of competition.

     "This is a new business model that combines the total power of the Panasonic group," Ido said.

     The company is also looking to build whole towns abroad, particularly in the parts of Asia with rip-roaring economies.

     "In oversees markets, we want to heighten our presence as a home builder," President Kazuhiro Tsuga said.

     For that reason, Executive Vice President Yoshihiko Yamada, in charge of Panasonic's overseas business strategy, visited Indonesia in mid-November and met with developers.

     The new business model is only a sliver of what Panasonic hopes it becomes as the company approaches its centennial, in fiscal 2018, when it wants to ring up annual sales of at least 10 trillion yen.

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