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Western Digital CEO bullish on Kioxia tie-up in battle for chip scale

Goeckeler touts 'tremendous' partner but skirts around acquisition reports

A Western Digital gaming drive: The U.S. chipmaker is a long-time partner of Japan's Kioxia, formerly Toshiba Memory. (Photo  courtesy of Western Digital)

TOKYO -- With the market for flash memory only expected to grow, Western Digital CEO David Goeckeler says the U.S. chipmaker sees Japan's Kioxia Holdings as a long-term partner that is key to staying competitive against big Asian rivals.

"I think we have a tremendous partner in Kioxia and we look forward to making the future happen together," Goeckeler told Nikkei in an interview Wednesday.

"When you put both of our market positions together, we are the largest supplier in the world -- slightly larger than Samsung," he said.

The CEO's remarks come amid a worldwide shortage in semiconductor devices that has brought renewed attention to East Asia's role in the global chip supply chain. Nasdaq-listed Western Digital has invested for decades in Japanese production capacity, including at the sprawling Yokkaichi complex southwest of Nagoya.

Western Digital CEO David Goeckeler (Photo courtesy of Western Digital)

Goeckeler declined to comment on media reports that Western Digital seeks to acquire Kioxia, formerly Toshiba Memory, saying he "can't speculate on any rumors on our M&A strategy." But he said the partnership "has to be one of the most successful, if not the most successful joint venture in technology."

"Semiconductors are a scaled business -- a high fixed cost business -- so having scale is very, very important," he said, explaining the advantage of developing and producing chips together with Kioxia.

"We believe it gives us the leadership position in the industry and the best technology in the industry," he said.

Goeckeler, a former Cisco networking and security executive, described his close relationship with Kioxia's leadership, saying he speaks with Kioxia CEO Nobuo Hayasaka every week and that they share a "tremendous relationship."

Western Digital and Kioxia "have made tens and tens of billions of dollars of investments over the last couple of decades, and it's a very productive, very positive, very functional relationship that we drive together," he said.

"We continue to innovate together very aggressively," he also said.

"We have a very strong agreement with Kioxia," Goeckeler said. "It's a very well-structured agreement."

Western Digital and Kioxia have signed contracts to operate joint ventures out of Yokkaichi through 2029 and the Kitakami plant in northern Japan through 2034, according to Goeckeler.

Goeckeler is bullish about the outlook for the $65 billion NAND flash memory market. With the rise of data clouds and intelligent devices, he says demand for the chips is growing by 30% to 35% a year.

In addition to Western Digital, U.S.-based Micron Technology is reportedly exploring a bid for Kioxia.

Goeckeler expressed concerns over the growing rivalry between the U.S. and China in cutting-edge technology.

"We certainly hope that the world doesn't devolve into multiple technology standards, because that's not good for any of us," he said.

"The most rapid progress in technology happens when you can have the biggest investment, and when you have the biggest investment is when you have the biggest market," he said.

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