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Panasonic regroups for new assault on U.S. camera market

The electronics giant isn't happy with sales in the United States and is working on a new plan to win over buyers and sales partners.

LAS VEGAS--Panasonic's camera group isn't happy with its U.S. market share and is working on a new marketing plan to improve it, executives said Tuesday at a photography show.

Panasonic's video-capable DMC-GH1
Panasonic's video-capable DMC-GH1 Stephen Shankland/CNET

"In looking at the U.S., we have not positioned the Lumix brand to our satisfaction," said Panasonic Executive Vice President Robert Perry at a press event at the Photo Marketing Association show here.

The company has No. 1 digital camera share in France and routinely is first or second in various other areas, but it's working to fix its sales problem in the United States, he said. Specifically, the company has begun a market review, he said.

"Over the coming months, we will see many changes," trying to win the hearts and minds of buyers and trying to fire up the resellers "whom we need to get behind the product and support it and make sure they communicate our value proposition," Perry said.

Panasonic has a triumvirate of values for digital cameras, he said: "Superb high performance, unparalleled reliability, and innovation."

One camera the company hopes will help turn around its fortunes is the Lumix DMC-GH1, a variation of the earlier G1 that adds high-definition video support. Panasonic unveiled the camera here, saying it has the image quality and interchangeable lens advantages of SLRs without their bulk, and with video support will accommodate people's need to record both spontaneous and planned events.

"It's the best of both worlds between a digital camera and a camcorder," said Ichiro Kitao, general manager of Panasonic's imaging product group.

The camera, a member of the Micro Four Thirds camera system from Panasonic and Olympus that governs lens mounts and sensor size, embodies one potential Panasonic advantage. The electronics company manufacturers many of the camera's components--including the image sensor, image processor, lens, LCD screen, and high-end electronic viewfinder--which offers the possibility of better control over the technology and better profit margins.

Panasonic also sells full-fledged SLRs employing the Four Thirds standard, but Micro Four Thirds permits smaller cameras by forsaking the flip-up mirror used in SLRs. Both standards use the same size sensor, larger and more expensive than the chips in ordinary compact cameras but also offering higher image quality.

Panasonic will continue with its Four Thirds SLRs, said Dave Briganti, national marketing manager for Panasonic's consumer electronics company, but they won't be at the forefront of the company's product line.

"I think the focus is really going to be on the Micro Four Thirds cameras," he said. "This is just the beginning of the road map for us."

Panasonic hasn't yet determined when the GH1 will ship or how much it will cost, but it will go on sale by this summer, Briganti said.