VIENNA, Austria — Hitachi and Toshiba led product introductions at the European Congress of Radiology here with a one-two punch directed at the growing ultrasound market.

Hitachi Medical Systems Europe (Zug, Switzerland) opened the show by introducing Preirus, a top-end upgrade to its HI Vision line as well as an open-architecture MRI, the Oasis. Toshiba Medical Systems Europe (Zoetermeer, the Netherlands) introduced Viamo, a laptop model offering premium image quality and a novel image enhancement capability called Precision Imaging (see main ESC story).

The advantage of having the key executives for European operations on hand during major industry event product launches is the opportunity to hear about the company as well as the new products and their features.

Marco Dolci, CEO of Hitachi Europe, presented a robust portrait of operations since a 2006 restructuring that followed flat sales performance, reporting that in 2008 Europe contributed 16.9% of the roughly €2 billion ($2.53 billion) in sales for the global medical device unit of Hitachi, edging out the U.S. operations that contributed 16.1%.

Some quick calculations suggests Hitachi earns just one-third of sales for medical devices outside Japan and Europe's contribution would be around €338 million ($428 million), a respectable number, but a bit modest for what followed.

In 2009, which began March 1, Dolci said that despite the uncertain economic conditions that are not favorable for big ticket medical imaging devices, he will stick to a sales growth forecast of 10%.

More aggressively, he said his mid-term goal for 2011 is to be ranked "among the top four in diagnostic imaging in Europe."

Dolci agreed that in 2009 the list would include GE Healthcare, Siemens, Philips and Toshiba, roughly in that order, and agreed with an obvious conclusion, saying, "Yes, we plan to take out Toshiba in Europe."

He pointed to the new Oasis MRI and HI Vision Preirus introductions as being among opportunities for organic growth, and added suggestively that "Russia is a big part of our market." He then quickly added: "We are evaluating acquisition opportunities at a European level."

Hitachi is big enough to make such an announcement, finishing 2008 at around $65 billion in sales.

And with an impressive row of Japanese executives sitting at the back of the room during the press conference, it was clear Dolci's statement has been approved at the highest levels.

Asked if he was looking at Agfa (Mortsel, Belgium), a company that has been on the ropes (Medical Device Daily, Sept. 22, 2008), Dolci replied, "Are you kidding? I saw their share price was 13 the other day, and I agree with the market that the company is not very attractive."

An Agfa top-line executive agreed that it was outside the realm of possibilities for his company, while adding he was astonished Dolci would be targeting Toshiba.

Jos Ruis, vice president, Toshiba Europe, told MDD that Dolci "cannot do it by 2011 with internal growth, no way."

He said, "It will have to be a significant purchase to push us out in medical imaging," he said, adding that if Dolci is only targeting ultrasound, he might be able to do it with a moderate acquisition, agreeing it would not be Agfa but possibly could be the Esaote Group (Genoa, Italy).

Toshiba (Tokyo) has the size to defend its market share, reporting annual sales of $75 billion.

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