Ricoh and Funai Electric jointly announced plans Wednesday to produce low cost rewritable optical disc drives. Under the agreement announced by the two Japanese companies, Ricoh will design and develop the CD-RW (compact disc-rewritable) and DVD+RW drives, while Funai handles production of the units at its factory in China. Funai is a specialist consumer electronics and computer equipment manufacturer, while Ricoh is one of the key backers of the DVD+RW system. This was created by several companies outside the DVD Forum. DVD+RW drives can read existing DVDs (Digital Versatile Discs), and also read and write discs using proprietary recording hardware. Backed by companies like Sony, Hewlett-Packard and Koninklijke Philips Electronics NV, the format, which can store 4.7G bytes of data per side per disc, is due to be commercially launched this year. A spokesman for Ricoh declined to give a retail price for the drives, but said the price would reflect Funai's low-cost production system. The first units off the production line will be CD-RW drives and are expected during the second quarter of this year, while DVD+RW drives are scheduled to enter production in the third quarter. Aggregate production of both drives is expected to be more than one million units in the first year of the alliance, the companies said. Demand for CD-RW drives is soaring as users turn to them for a high capacity storage medium. Ricoh said it estimates global demand for CD-RW drives to hit 60 million this year, up from 40 million in 2000 and 16 million in 1999.