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Pollution-weary Chinese welcome Japanese air purifiers

A couple wearing protective masks poses for a self-portrait in thick haze on Tiananmen Square in Beijing Jan. 29, 2013.

Ng Han Guan/AP

Even as Japanese officials wring their hands about the harmful effects of China's air pollution drifting over to Japan, Japanese white goods manufacturers are finding the problem has a welcome silver lining.

Sales of air purifiers made by Daikin Industries Ltd., Panasonic Corp. and Sharp Corp. have shot up in China amid mounting concerns about air pollution over the past few months.

Sharp said sales of its air purifiers in China tripled last month compared with a year earlier, while Panasonic sold more than twice as many air purifiers in China in January.

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Daikin, a leading maker of air-conditioners, also saw sales of its air purifiers in China rise 3.6 times year-on-year in January.

The boost in demand for air purifiers is a rare piece of positive news for Sharp and Panasonic, which are struggling to regain profitability. Sharp is forecasting a record net loss in the year to the end of March of ¥450-billion ($4.8-billion U.S.), while Panasonic expects to suffer a net loss of ¥765-billion.

"We believe the impact of the air pollution problem in China on sales of our air purifiers is huge. We expect sales to continue increasing until May or June," said a Panasonic representative. The group is ramping up production by 50 per cent.

Demand for air purifiers made by Japanese manufacturers had already been on the rise in China, due to increasing awareness of health and environmental issues, a Sharp representative said.

While a boycott of Japanese products due to a dispute over a chain of islands hurt sales of large ticket items made by Japanese manufacturers, from cars to TVs, Chinese consumers apparently retained their faith in the quality of Japanese air purifiers.

Last year, sales of Sharp's air purifiers doubled from the level a year ago, Sharp said.

Sharp's air purifiers have received certification from a Chinese-government linked organization that they filter out 99.5 per cent of PM2.5, the small particulate matter that is at the centre of the pollution scare.

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Air purifiers are a key product for Sharp in China, comprising 30 per cent of the group's white goods sales in that market, Sharp said.

"We are increasing production as demand is growing," a representative said.

However, the strong rise in sales of air purifiers will not be sufficient to reverse the fortunes of Panasonic or Sharp.

Air purifiers are only one among a vast range of products Japanese electronics companies manufacture, and generate far lower sales than more expensive products such as refrigerators and air conditioners.

"The market [for air purifiers in China] is still very small, so the ratio that air purifiers comprise within our overall sales is very small," a Daikin representative said.

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