To date, more than 15 million bikes have left Panasonic’s factories. Its top-end road bikes were ridden at major racing events such as the Tour de France and the Olympics. Still, some cyclists go on mocking its products as “toaster bikes.” Seems like shaking off its image as a supplier of white goods is almost impossible for Panasonic.
There is no doubt, however, that the Osaka-headquartered megacorp has been affiliated with the bike industry for a long time. Its founder, Konosuke Matsushita grew up with a family who owned a bicycle shop. When he established Panasonic (called Matsushita back then), the company’s first bestseller became a battery-powered bicycle lamp.
After World War II, Matsushita formed Panasonic Cycle Tech, a division that focuses exclusively on manufacturing bicycles and cycling accessories. For the production of tires a separate business unity, National Tire (today: Panaracer Corporation), was launched. To date, its premium tires and tubes are sold under the Panaracer brand.
The post-World War II bike boom allowed many cycling brands to prosper. This went as far as that bicycles were outselling cars on the US market in the first half of the 1970s. Just a decade later, slowing-down demand coincided with an ever-raising exchange rate of the Yen. Export markets became largely unprofitable for companies from Japan, a dilemma that determined the future of many cycling brands. Panasonic was no exception.
In 1989, Panasonic’s founder Konosuke Matsushita passed away. After that it took no long, until the manufacturer withdraw from its bicycle distribution in North America. Exports to Europe were stopped just a couple of years later.
In its Japanese home market, Panasonic went on producing cycling products as it did before. Their current product line-up has some road bike models that are made of the same lugged steel frames using Tange Prestige tubes as decades ago. These bikes can even be ordered in the same color scheme as their classic forerunners.
For more information on its bicycles from its glory days visit the Panasonic Virtual Bike Museum.