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Japan Inc. swims in troubled seas

Posted: 09 Feb 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:chip manufacturing? chip design? Japanese IC industry?

Late last fall, Panasonic announced its plan to shrink its semiconductor business by shedding about 1,000 employees and outsourcing chip production. Panasonic's internal IC consumption, which accounts for 50 percent of its total output, is expected to fall further as the company cuts back TV production. For Panasonic, which has been exploring ways to restructure its semiconductor business, the proposed merger plan with Renesas and Fujitsu must be a God's send. Suddenly, it has a place to unload its fabs and engineers.

What is ailing Fujitsu Semiconductor is the lack of a platform. Fujitsu remains primarily an ASIC company. It may excel in crafting great ASICs for domestic system buyers, but it has never been able to transform its business into an ASSP supplier. Again, the assets Fujitsu Semiconductor could bring to the three-way Japan Inc. chip joint venture remains unclear. Perhaps, more Japanese customers, like NTT Docomo. But surely not many global customers.

Even more mysterious is the proposed scenario of merging all three companies' chip manufacturing units. How could the combined fabs dumped by the three companies become a viable chip production venture? And, precisely, what role will Globalfoundries play?

This whole maneuver of creating two separate JVs (one for chip design and another for chip manufacturing) could be simply a convenient way for the three companies to unload a lot of assets they no longer want C without being painted as "job-killing" villains in the Japanese society. (Layoffs and fab closures are particularly problematic in Japan)

But a lack of leadership, or an endemic case of indecisiveness (postponing the inevitable year after year), is costing the Japanese electronics industry dearly. Once the highest flying industry in the land of rising sun, the electronics sector is now blindly huddling togetherlike orphans in a boxcarwith little idea of its future.

There is a Japanese saying: "If we cross the street (river, or whatever) together, there will be nothing to fear." But right now, the view from the boxcar is pretty fearful, and nobody wants to cross the tracks.

- Junko Yoshida
??EE Times


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