Panasonic UK talks OLED, heat pumps and automotive tech

posted on Saturday, 13th April 2019 by Steve May

Corporate  OLED  Smart Building  Automotive 


When asked where he sees big opportunities for growth, Panasonic UK MD Simon Grantham (pictured above) offers some perhaps surprising insights. As the Japanese major leaves its centenary year behind, it’s automotive and smart building tech, not to mention personal grooming products that are moving centre stage. It seems the future hints at even greater diversification for the brand once heavily centred on consumer electronics.

To learn more, Inside CI sat down with Mr Grantham, who recently took up post from a position at appliance giant Miele UK. Topics ranged from OLED and 8k to the rebirth of Technics. 

Inside CI: Panasonic is heavily involved in B2B and B2C, both of which are enduring a period of unprecedented change and challenge, yet it seems to be weathering the storm. Where do you see opportunities for the company going forward?

Simon Grantham: “I think what we're doing in automotive is pretty smart. Everything from electric vehicles to automated driving. We recently signed a global partnership with Toyota,so we have two Japanese companies now developing technology together. We also have a close working partnership with Jaguar Land Rover.”

Panasonic -Plzen

We’ve heard a lot about smart building technology from Panasonic. Last year it began residential air-to-water heat pump production at the AVC Networks factory in Pilsen, Czech Republic (pictured above). It's predicted to become one of the main plants for Aquarea units globally. But renewable heating represents just 2 per cent of heating systems in the UK. How significant is the market really going to be?

Grantham: “It’s a big deal. I think opening this factory to manufacture air to water systems gives us a massive advantage in Europe. I think it’ll be important in building developments, particularly cities. It's a really efficient way of heating and managing the climate in your house. I think for Panasonic, it’s actually a very big business opportunity.”

That may surprise people who still think of Panasonic primarily as a consumer electronics company. What other new area is going to be big in the future?

Grantham: “Beauty products..., because we’ve already got a very large position in other territories. So the product range and innovation is already there.”

ES-WF62_model _04_181213

What are the biggest difference you’ve found going from brands like Tefal UK and Miele UK to helming Panasonic UK?

Grantham: "I think it's the pace of technology. White goods are slow moving in comparison. It's a replacement cycle. Your washing machine breaks down, or you're  building a kitchen. It's much more predictable.”

"I think one of Panasonic’s strengths is it's entrepreneurial. We have a global vision and a global direction"

“I think one of Panasonic’s strengths is it's entrepreneurial. You get a lot of entrepreneurial business divisions that come up with brilliant ideas and market them and launch them and do it in their own way. Automotive, avionics, eco heating, there's loads of that in Panasonic; as a manager, you've often got to go out there and find out what that idea is, and work your way through the (corporate) structure. That's fine. I'd rather have a company that was entrepreneurial.

“We have a global vision and a global direction. And for a company our size, you kind of need that. Literally every week there's a new a new idea, a new invention.”

Do you do you anticipate this year being a good one for TV, given that there’s no big sporting events to propel the market?

Grantham: “I think it's probably a good one for top end TV. There’s no World Cup, but you then you don't always get a spike in sales anyway. A lot of manufacturers are broadening their OLED options this year with high price, larger screen sizes. For mass market sales, It's as tough as it always is.”

You didn’t launch many products at CES this year, yet your GZ2000 OLED TV generated a huge buzz...

Grantham: “There's a reason why we didn't show lots of TVs at CES. There were other stories that Panasonic wanted to get across, particularly on the business to business side: our automotive business and the partnerships we launched with Disney and Harley Davidson. I think increasingly we will use more specialist shows, like Photokina and IFA to launch products.”

GZ2000 (1)

You’re now supporting Dolby Vision and HDR10+ on both OLED and LED LCD TV. Do you concede consumer confusion over new TV technologies hasn't exactly helped sales?

Grantham: “We're probably not explaining enough about what that technology does. And I don't think our technology partners do that either. If you go into a store to buy a new TV, and you haven't been in the market for seven years, it's a bit of a nightmare. But OLED is developing fast. Customers have so much choice.”

Of course, there's no 8k offering from Panasonic yet?

Grantham: “We've shown 8k displays and talked about it, and we'll probably do that again. I think our view is pretty well known: there's no broadcastable 8k yet, we're hoping for that at Tokyo 2020. I think they're making sure that they can actually deliver broadcast quality 8k first. In the meantime, OLED is the best picture quality we think you can get.”

"If you go into a store to buy a new TV, and you haven't been in the market for seven years, it's a bit of a nightmare."

Do you see a future for physical media? Samsung created quite a stir by dropping out of the market...

Grantham: “There are are different sides to it. The top end remains interesting for the super enthusiast, the DP-UB9000 end of the market. Panasonic's quite good at coming in at the tail end of some markets. For example, traditional phones, which everybody would have said was dead because the mobile has taken over, but we've actually got a very big business in that technology. Panasonic is a trusted, reliable brand.”

Can we ask you about Technics, what's your your view is on where that brand sits at the moment?

Grantham: “I personally I love the brand. I maybe would have liked it to be more mass-market, move a little bit faster, but you need to reestablish your credentials in Hi-Fi before you can bring out slightly more affordable products. The Ottava S SC-C50 wireless speaker being one of them, plus the new EAH- F50 and EAH-F70 headphones, affordable turntables like the SL-1500C,”

Technics SL-1200

"I think that the considered approach to relaunching Technics has been a smart move. I think the SC-C50 looks great. It sounds great. It's in the right space in the market. I think that'll be a good product for us. I certainly hope so. We've been protective about the distribution as well, we've only sold it in really good Hi fi shops and specialist outlets. And then with the DJ SL-1210MK7 direct drive DJ turntable, and more affordable decks like the SL-1500C, we'll re-establish our credentials."

You've moved into the hot seat quite a challenging time, with a high street meltdown and Brexit. What's you're coping mechanism in terms of retail, and on a bigger corporate level?

Grantham: “Panasonic's fortunate in that it's got global presence. We're 63 billion euro company, all the other divisions spread the risk if there's a global change, also geographically we're in so many different areas.

“Secondly, I think the advantage that Panasonic has is we're one hundred years old. We stand for reliability, quality and good design. As long as we stick to that, I think we'll be fine. There'll be definitely bumps along the way, and Brexit’s for sure one of them, but we stay consistent. As a corporation we’re not chopping and changing, moving from one area of the market, to something else. Panasonic has a very considered approach to launching new technology. We don't knee-jerk.”

Steve May

Inside CI Editor Steve May is a freelance technology specialist who also writes for T3TechRadarHome Cinema Choice, Trusted Reviews and The Luxe Review.

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