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Panasonic, Hitachi LCD venture to double expansion

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Providing further evidence of the booming market for flat-panel televisions, a Japan-based LCD (liquid crystal display) screen maker will double its planned expansion over the next two years, it said Wednesday.

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IPS Alpha Technology Ltd., a joint-venture between Hitachi Displays Ltd., Matsushita Electric Industrial Co. Ltd. (Panasonic) and Toshiba Corp., had been planning to increase panel production by 2.5 million units per year but will now expand production by five million units per year, it said. The figures are based on 32-inch panels and will be lower if production is focused on larger size panels.

The company produces panels at a plant in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, east of Tokyo and the planned expansion will be completed by the second-half of fiscal year 2007, which ends in March 2008. The new plan represents an additional investment of Ľ80 billion (US$713 million).

IPS Alpha has also begun discussions with the government of the Czech Republic regarding an LCD module production plant to serve the flat-panel TV market in Europe. The plant will take LCD panels and add additional components including backlights and driver chips to produce a finished LCD module. The new factory is scheduled to start production at about the same time as the Japanese expansion is completed.

In recent months LCD panel makers have been committing hundreds of millions of dollars to expanding production to serve the fast growing appetite for thin TVs.

Earlier this year Sony Corp. and Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. reached a basic agreement to build a new US$2 billion LCD manufacturing line in Tangjeong, South Korea. That's in addition to a 100 billion won (US$97.4 million) expansion of their first production line at the same site.

Last month Sharp Corp. said it plans to build an LCD module plant in Poland to help it keep up with European demand for flat-panel TVs.

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