Sharp Corp. and Panasonic Corp., Japanese electronics makers struggling to recover from record losses, are boosting sales of air purifiers in China as pollution worsens in the world's most populous country.
Sharp's sales of the products, built mainly in Shanghai, tripled last month from a year earlier, Miyuki Nakayama, a company spokeswoman in Tokyo, said by phone yesterday. That's spurring the Osaka-based manufacturer to increase output, she said. Panasonic's production of air purifiers for the Chinese market in January were 50 percent above average monthly levels, Chieko Gyobu, a spokeswoman, said yesterday.
Air quality in Beijing deteriorated beyond World Health Organization safe limits every day last month as smoke from coal-powered plants, factory emissions, car fumes and dust amassed over the city. Official measurements of PM2.5, airborne particulates that pose the greatest health risks, rose as high as 993 micrograms per cubic meter in the capital Jan. 12, compared with WHO guidelines of no more than 25.
"The spike in demand may help Panasonic and Sharp," said Mitsuo Shimizu, a Tokyo-based analyst at Iwai Cosmo Holdings Inc. "The Japanese companies have good technology."
Sharp's air-purifier sales in China doubled last year as people grew more conscious about the environment, Nakayama said. Air purifiers make up about 30 percent of the company's sales of white goods, or household electrical appliances, in China, she said.
The company got 20 percent of total sales from China last fiscal year, making the nation its biggest overseas market.
The company's Plasmacluster line of air purifiers disperse positive and negative ions into the air that attach to and break down pollutants, according to the company's website. The technology kills germs, molds and odors, Sharp says.
Panasonic, which forecasts a loss of 765 billion yen this fiscal year, declined 0.9 percent to 665 yen. The benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average fell 1.2 percent.
China added 15.1 million new cars last year, more than the total of vehicles on its roads in 1999. It has 16 of the world's 20 most-polluted cities, according to the World Bank.
Pollution drifting from China also caused spikes in PM2.5 levels in areas of Japan last month, including the southern cities of Fukuoka and Kagoshima, prompting the Japanese government to call for talks with China to exchange information and discuss possible cooperation.
"This is an issue that could affect Japan and is, therefore, one in which the government has a great interest," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters Feb. 8.
Sales of air purifiers are also beginning to rise at faster pace than a year ago in some areas in Japan, as the hay-fever season approaches, Sharp's Nakayama said.