By Isabel Reynolds and Reiji Murai
OMIYA, Japan (Reuters) - Japan's Fujifilm aims to become the world's fourth largest camera maker by next March and the No. 3 manufacturer two years later, overtaking first rival Samsung and then Nikon, a senior company executive said.
Until recently best known for inexpensive models, Fujifilm may also re-enter the more lucrative interchangeable lens camera market from which it withdrew in 2009, Takeshi Higuchi, head of the company's camera division, said in an interview with Reuters on Monday.
The launch of a 'mirrorless' camera, which has an electronic viewfinder, making it lighter and more compact than a professional-style single-lens reflex camera, would be an extension of Fujifilm's effort to move upmarket and would put it in direct competition with Sony.
Earlier this year it launched the Finepix X100 high-end compact, which is made in Japan and sells for about 120,000 yen ($1,480).
Higuchi insisted the company would have no problems developing a mirrorless camera or the required lenses by itself, denying the possibility of another acquisition in the industry.
Last week copier and printer maker Ricoh, which also has a compact camera division, announced it was buying the Pentax camera business from Hoya.
Fujifilm, which makes a wide range of products from medical equipment to cosmetics, barely broke even on cameras last year, but Higuchi plans to pull the business firmly into the black this year with production cost cuts and a marketing push that he says will keep unit prices higher.
"We can do all the important development in-house, so we can use that to cut costs, but we don't have a very high-profile brand," Higuchi said. "We have debated why that is and the upshot was we should put out luxury models and spend more on publicity to build up the brand."
In digital still camera unit sales, Fujifilm says it is currently in fifth position behind Canon, Sony, Nikon and Samsung, but adds it is confident that its plan to boost sales 25 percent to 14 million units this financial year will gain it the No. 4 spot.
Apart from the Finepix X100, all the company's camera production is concentrated in China, but Fujifilm is planning to spread risk by starting some production in southeast Asia, said Higuchi, adding that Thailand looked promising.
"We do feel a risk in China in terms of wages and the high staff turnover," Higuchi said. "We will seek a production site outside China," he added.
A decision will be made on the location by the end of the financial year, he said. The firm is also conducting feasibility studies in Vietnam, Malaysia and the Philippines. Current production levels in China will be maintained, he said.
($1 = 80.835 Japanese Yen)
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds and Reiji Murai; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)
(This story was corrected to change the date of Fuji's withdrawal from the SLR market to 2009 from 2004 in paragraph 2)