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Garmin eyes Europe No.1 spot with Navigon

BERLIN (Reuters) - Garmin Ltd is looking to challenge rival TomTom's leading position in the European market for portable navigation devices (PNDs) though its acquisition of Germany-based Navigon, its executive said on Friday.

Earlier this year Garmin bought Navigon to grow its role in the European market, traditionally controlled by Dutch TomTom, and to gain more exposure to automotive and mobile businesses.

"It gives us the ability to take over the No.1 position," Chief Operating Officer and President Clifton Pemble told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin.

Pemble declined to forecast when his company would take over TomTom's position. He said the combined market share of Garmin and Navigon was above 30 percent. This compares with TomTom's market share of around 45 percent.

Pemble said restructuring was ongoing in some areas to cut duplication after the Navigon acquisition, but the German company was mostly complimentary to Garmin's business, so the majority of staff would stay on board.

Demand for portable navigation devices, the must-have gadget of recent years, is declining as traffic and mapping functions become almost standard in cars and mobiles.

Garmin and TomTom have struggled to fend off competition from Google Inc and Nokia, which offer free navigation on mobile devices.

Demand has also been hit by economic problems.

Pemble said there were no catalysts in sight to change the economic picture either way.

"We are still scraping along the bottom of the economic cycle," he said. "The economy is pretty challenging all over the world."

Garmin expects the market for PNDs to continue to fall, before stabilizing at around 20 million units per year, and Pemble said he could not say whether the PND market will ever grow again.

"The stabilization point is probably too far off to say whether it will grow again. Our view is that the market will stabilize at around 20 million units."

A total of about 41.5 million PND units were shipped in 2010, according to market research firm IHS iSuppli. Pemble said market forecasts for 2011 range between 30-33 million.

Garmin has said it expects the North American PND market to decline 25 percent this year and the European market to shrink by up to 10 percent, while TomTom has forecast an up to 20 percent drop in the global market.

Satnav vendors hope direct deals with car manufacturers to integrate navigation devices into the car systems will replace some of the lost business from PNDs, but Pemble said full replacement was likely far away.

"It will probably take a lot of time," he said.

(Reporting By Tarmo Virki)

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