Sony sees robust early U.S. holiday demand

Stringer: Sales up for TVs, computers and game consoles

TOKYO -- Japan's Sony Corp. said it is enjoying robust demand for its PlayStation 3 game console and other electronic products so far in this holiday shopping season in the key U.S. market.

"We saw a very positive sales increase for televisions, computers and PS3 in particular," Sony CEO Howard Stringer told a group of reporters on Thursday.

"I don't think there were any negatives, but we need a little more time to find out how big it was."

Year-end sales are critical for Sony and other consumer electronics makers as they represent a big chunk of their annual revenues.

Sony, which pioneered the mobile music market 30 years ago with its Walkman and once ruled the global television industry in the era of box TVs, has been struggling to keep pace with nimbler South Korean rivals and innovative U.S. IT firms in recent years.

Its portable music players are in the shadow of Apple Inc.'s iPod, and the maker of Bravia LCD TVs lags a long way behind Samsung Electronics Co Ltd. in the global flat TV market.

In a bid to turn its fortunes around, Sony last month unveiled new business plans and performance targets, including achieving a 5% operating margin and return on equity of 10% by the year ending March 2013.

Stringer said Sony has a good fighting chance in auto-use rechargeable batteries, shrugging off the fact that some other battery makes have already agreed on battery supply deals with major automakers.

"Don't forget we started lithium-ion batteries at Sony ... If you produce the right battery, they will come," Stringer said.

Sony in 1991 launched the world's first lithium-ion batteries, which were used first to power mobile phones and then camcorders.

The company said last month it was tentatively planning to enter the market for electric car-use lithium-ion batteries.

"It's worth putting our best engineers at it ... It's worth a shot, I think," Stringer said.

Since taking the helm in 2005, Stringer has worked hard to break down the barriers among various business groups within the company, which include movies, music, games, consumer electronics, insurance and banking.

The effort, carried out under the "Sony United" slogan, led to its victory in the high-definition optical disc format war with Toshiba Corp., when its game, movie and electronics divisions threw their full weight behind Blu-ray technology.

For auto-use batteries, GS Yuasa Corp.'s lithium-ion batteries already go into Mitsubishi Motors Corp.'s i-MiEV, the world's first mass-produced electric car, while Sanyo Electric Co Ltd. has agreed to jointly develop with Volkswagen lithium-ion batteries for hybrid vehicles.

Shares in Sony closed up 6% at 2,475 yen, outperforming the Tokyo stock market's electrical machinery index, which rose 5%.
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