* Samsung retains No. 1 spot for U.S. flat panel TVs in Q4
* Vizio passes Sony for No. 2 spot in U.S. flat panel TVs
* Panasonic gains share in U.S. flat panel TV market
TAIPEI, Feb 20 (Reuters) - LCD TV brand Vizio Inc overtook Sony (6758.T) during the fourth quarter to become the second-best selling flat panel TV brand in the United States after stepping up its marketing efforts, research firm iSuppli said.
Vizio, whose TVs are made by Taiwan’s Amtran Technology (2489.TW), took 14.3 percent of all flat panel TV shipments in the October-December period as consumers’ appetite for more expensive brands fell amid the global financial crisis.
“Vizio’s success in the fourth quarter was partly due to increasing brand recognition, courtesy of the company’s strong marketing efforts and retail strategy,” said iSuppli analyst Riddhi Patel in a statement.
Fourth-placed Panasonic (6752.T) was the only brand to outpace Vizio’s growth, with its market share growing 3.12 percentage points to 10.7 percent compared to Vizio’s 3.11 percentage point increase.
Samsung retained its place as the top-selling brand, with a 20.2 percent share in the fourth quarter, down from 20.8 percent in the third. Sony fell to No. 3 with a 13.5 percent share, down from 13.9 percent in the third quarter.
iSuppli cautioned that consumer spending on discretionary items such as LCD TVs had fallen, and growth in the sector was slowing.
“Brands are finding it hard to survive in the current economic climate amid tough price competition,” Patel said.
Many tech companies have been struggling in the current downturn, but LCD makers such as AU Optronics (2409.TW) and Chi Mei 3009.TW that supply panels used to make LCD TVs have recently had to ramp up production to meet rush orders.
Taiwan media reported this month the companies had pared back forced unpaid leave to meet increasing demand for LCD panels.
Reporting by Kelvin Soh; Editing by Ken Wills