Alpine Electronics, Inc. History
Telephone: 03 3494 1101
Fax: 03 3494 1109
Founded: 1967 as Alps Motorola Company, Ltd.
Sales: $1.1 billion
Stock Exchanges: Tokyo
SICs: 3661 Telephone & Telegraph Apparatus; 5064 Electrical Appliances (Television & Radio); 3663 Radio and Television Communications Equipment
Alpine Electronics, Inc., is one of the world's leading manufacturers of sophisticated audio, navigational, and electronic automobile products. These include in-dash compact disc changers, CD head units, Ai-NET-compatible CD changers, multifunctional audio systems, amplifiers, in-dash color television monitors, security systems, and speakers. Alpine also makes one of the world's most precise and reliable high-speed car navigation systems. The company manufactures custom audio systems for such prestigious automakers as Honda, BMW, Chrysler, Mercedes Benz, Volvo, and Lamborghini.
Alpine Electronics was established in 1967 as a joint venture between Alps Electric Company, one of Japan's leading manufacturers of electronic components for consumer appliances, and Motorola, Inc.; the company was originally called Alps Motorola Company, Ltd. With headquarters in Tokyo, the company focused on developing and manufacturing new electronic products for the burgeoning Japanese automotive market. The company's first product, an eight-track cartridge tape player, was introduced in 1968. One year later, Alps Motorola Company began producing car radios.
During the early 1970s, Alps Motorola Company introduced the "Handy-8," a lightweight, portable eight-track cartridge tape player that was initially successful; however, by the mid-1970s sales had slipped. In order to offset shrinking sales in Japan and expand its product line, Alps Motorola began to export tape decks to Europe and North America and entered the automotive audio market. This change in strategy brought with it a change of name, from Alps Motorola Company to Alpine Electronics, Inc.
At the first consumer electronics show Alpine attended, the company introduced the 7206 AM/FM Cassette Tape Player, which included the brand-new Strontium Colbat long-playing tape head. Soon afterward, Alpine introduced the 7308 AM/FM Cassette Tape Player, which was specifically designed for the automotive audio market. In order to distribute its products, Alpine established sales subsidiaries in Dusseldorf, Germany; Torrence, California; and Toronto, Canada. In addition, Alpine entered into an agreement with Lamborghini, the Italian sports car manufacturer, to place its electronic audio products in one of the most glamorous vehicles in the world, the Lamborghini Countach. Suddenly, other automobile manufacturers were competing for the opportunity to place Alpine audio equipment in their cars.
As revenues increased rapidly, the company began to investigate digitalized electronic products. In 1980 the company introduced the 7128 and 7308 electronically tuned radios, the first of their kind. In 1981, in a venture with Honda Motor Corporation, Alpine introduced the world's first gyrocator. One year later, Alpine introduced the revolutionary 3015 computerized graphic equalizer, the first such product in the world. In 1982 the company was awarded the Japanese "Good Design" Award for its computerized equalizer and garnered worldwide attention for redefining the electronic car audio market.
Alpine captured additional "Good Design" awards during the following years and began to capitalize on its publicity as a leader in the field. The company established new sales subsidiaries in Paris and Melbourne, as well as its first manufacturing subsidiary outside Japan, in Greenwood, Indiana, which was the first Japanese car audio plant in North America. Alpine also constructed a new company building in Iwaki, Japan. Automotive manufacturers from around the world contracted Alpine to place state-of-the-art audio equipment in their vehicles, including such prestigious companies as Volvo, BMW, and Mercedes Benz. By 1988, Alpine had grown large enough to have its shares listed on the Second Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
The worldwide enthusiasm for high-quality automotive audio equipment led Alpine to establish competitions such as the Japan Car Audio Nationals; the competitive focus on high performance and reliability generated by this competition, in turn, led Alpine to develop the 7907 AM/FM compact disc player. With a widely recognized brand name, products that garnered high marks from customers, a marketing campaign that capitalized on its identification with sports car manufacturers such as Lamborghini, and the support of an effective specialty dealer network, Alpine had grown into the most successful car audio products manufacturer.
In 1989 Alpine made a commitment to the development of compact disc products and began investing heavily in research and development in this area. In 1990 the company introduced the CD Shuttle 5952, a six-disc compact disc automatic changer that was the first to fit into a car's dashboard, thanks to a miniature mechanism for ultrathin pickup. Almost overnight, the CD Shuttle became Japan's best-selling compact disc automatic changer. Continuing to build on micro-mechatronics technology, Alpine later introduced the smallest six-disc CD autochanger in the world. Small enough to fit into the glove compartment of a car, the CD Shuttle 5960 also become one of the company's best-selling products.
During 1990 and 1991, Alpine Electronics achieved significant financial goals. More capital was raised for the development of new products and expansion of existing facilities, and for a worldwide marketing campaign. Alpine stock was listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange, and Alpine issued Eurodollar-based warrants for the European Union market.
Alpine also introduced the revolutionary AV Shuttle 2913, an in-dash, full-color, high resolution television monitor. Mounted in a car's dashboard, the 5-inch display system was brought up with the touch of a finger and could be tucked away inside the console when no longer in use. The screen displayed television broadcasts as well as automotive navigation maps. The AV Shuttle was complemented by another Alpine development, a completely automated, high-speed navigation system that could be displayed on it, providing driver and passengers with the best route to a destination and rerouting if the car should stray off its course. The system included voice guidance, optimized timing for both expressways and local roads, and specific information on intersections. A gyro-sensing device within the system provided precise, reliable tracking.
As Alpine continued to grow, the company built a new facility to house its European headquarters in Dusseldorf, Germany, and established Singapore Alpine Electronics Asia Pte. Ltd. as a parts procurement and liaison subsidiary. A division of the Singapore subsidiary included a cassette production facility providing component parts to other plants in Southeast Asia. The cassette mechanisms, when completed, were then sent to China for final assembly.
During the 1990s, Alpine invested heavily in China. Recognizing the importance of applied computer technology, especially in car navigation systems, in 1991 Alpine created NEU Alpine Software, Inc., to recruit and train young software engineers in China. In 1994 the company built a manufacturing facility in China and entered into a Chinese joint venture called Dandong Alpine Electronics, Inc. Dandong Alpine planned to establish a huge production facility in China that would export products to the Japanese, European, and American markets.
In 1994 the company also moved into Mexico, establishing a Mexican manufacturing plant to produce car stereos, tuners, and other electronic component parts. Plans called for the plant to initially export all of its products to the United States and later expand distribution to Asia and Europe.
Principal Subsidiaries:Alpine Electronics of America, Inc.; Alpine Electronics Manufacturing of America, Inc.; Alpine Electronics of Canada, Inc.; Alpine Electronics (Europe) GmbH; Alpine Electronics GmbH; Alpine Electronics of U.K., Ltd.; Alpine Electronics France S.A.R.L.; Alpine Italia S.p.A.; Alpine Electronics de Espana, S.A.; Alpine Electronics of Australia Pty. Ltd.; Alpine Electronics of New Zealand, Ltd.; Alpine Do Brasil Ltda.; Alpine Electronics Asia Pte. Ltd.; Alpine Electronics Research of America, Inc.; Alcom Electronics de Mexico; Dandong Alpine Electronics, Inc.
Further Reading:Alpine Car and Communications Systems: Corporate Profile 1994-1995, Tokyo: Alpine Electronics, Inc., 1995. The Alpine Story, 1995, Company Document.
Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 13. St. James Press, 1996.