Katsumi Kasahara  /  AP file
Visitors at Sony’s showroom in Tokyo’s Ginza shopping district check the latest models of the Walkman portable music players. Sony said Wednesday it will close a factory that began producing the Walkman music player in 1979.
updated 1/25/2006 8:35:06 AM ET 2006-01-25T13:35:06

The Walkman — whose original model was once Sony’s signature product — will no longer be made in Japan.

Sony Corp. said Wednesday that by the end of March it will close a factory that began producing the Walkman music players in 1979 when it first debuted, according to Atsuo Omagari, a Sony spokesman. Production of Walkman brand products will be shifted to plants in Malaysia and China, he said.

The move comes as Sony cuts costs and the competition in the booming digital portable music player market intensifies, where Sony lags far behind Apple Computer Inc.’s iPod.

Under the Walkman brand, Sony offers five different types of music players: the original cassette tape player, CD and MD players as well as the one using hard disk drives and flash memory.

The factory being shuttered in Saitama prefecture was the only plant in Japan making Walkmans, producing a Walkman model that uses a hard-disc drive, according to Mami Imada, a Sony spokeswoman.

Japan production of the other kinds of Walkman models had ended earlier, she said.

The Walkman has sold more than 350 million units worldwide since its creation in 1979, and was once the global symbol of Sony’s — and Japan’s — technical prowess.

The Saitama plant stopped making the hard disk drive Walkman in January, Sony said. The factory will be turned into a product design center.

The closure of the factory is the first under a restructuring plan Sony announced last September to revive its ailing electronics operations worldwide.

Under its three-year business plan through fiscal 2007 that ends in March 2008, Sony is seeking to reduce the number of its global manufacturing bases by 11 from 65 at the end of March 2005. Sony’s July-September group net profit plunged 46 percent to $249 million (28.5 billion yen).

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