Washington - Despite a sharp mid-year drop-off in major appliance sales, factory shipments of white goods ended 2002 up a healthy 5.1 percent in unit volume over 2001.
According to data compile by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM), the home comfort category enjoyed the most robust growth at 9 percent, owing to increased demand for room air conditioners during last year's unusually warm summer.
Also enjoying solid gains was kitchen clean up, which grew 7.5 percent in unit volume for the year, led by shipments of built-in dishwashers.
Running a close third at 6.6 percent was food preservation, with sales of 12.3 million units. However, the numbers, which reflect a 16.2 percent boost in chest-type freezers, belie softer wholesale sales of refrigerators, which grew a more modest 4.7 percent to 9.7 million units.
Coming in with a 2002 gain of 5.6 percent was home laundry, with the greatest growth seen in gas dryers, which increased 7.7 percent.
Pulling up the rear was the cooking category, which, despite hefty gains in surface cooking units and freestanding gas ranges, grew a meager 1.7 percent, dragged down by year-over-year declines in built-in gas ranges (down 1.2 percent) and microwave ovens (down 1.0 percent).
Providing a weighted snapshot of 2002 shipments is the so-called AHAM 6, an amalgam of the core washer, dryer, dishwasher, refrigerator, freezer and range categories, which rose 6.7 percent for the year.
Majap makers will likely look back on 2002 with fond memories, given their projections for 2003 sales. According to AHAM's industry outlook, total shipments are expected to grow a meager 1.5 percent this year, an ironic transposition of last year's 5.1 percent (see story, p. 14).
For the month of December, total shipments rose 2.3 percent to 6.5 million units, led by double-digit gains in laundry. But the 11.4-percent rise in washer and dryer shipments was offset by a 7.1 percent decline for the cooking category, and flat growth in food preservation.
Cooking shipments were weak across the board, with built-in gas ranges off by 10.5 percent and microwave oven shipments down 9.7 percent. One bright spot was built-in electric ranges, sales of which rose 6.4 percent at wholesale.
In food preservation, the key refrigeration category slipped 1.3 percent to 831,500 units shipped, and wholesale sales of upright freezers fell 11.3 percent.