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2/25/2002 02:00:00 AM Eastern

The accent was on innovation at this month's International Builders' Show, where a handful of major appliance exhibitors showcased such value-added introductions as a refrigerated oven, flat-panel air conditioners and a talking refrigerator.

Though short on breakthrough technologies, majap makers made sure to embellish their kitchen and laundry entries with more of the bells and whistles that have lately helped resuscitate sales of high-end white goods.

While the vast majority of manufacturers continued to eschew the show — saving their line debuts for the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS) in April — those on hand at the Georgia World Congress Center here enjoyed the undivided attention of the still robust home builders market.

Former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani kicked off the convention with a rousing keynote address, after which the exhibit floors opened to an estimated 70,000 attendees over the course of the four-day event.

Among the majap marvels they may have encountered was Whirlpool's new Polara, which the manufacturer touted as the world's first range with refrigeration capabilities.

Polara is a standard-sized electric range that does not require any customized hookup or installation, and offers the same features found in Whirlpool's premium ranges, including an AccuBake Duo System that uses dual sensors to constantly monitor oven temperatures.

The unit is controlled by a timing capability, enabling consumers to prepare meals up to a day in advance. Program options include initial cooling start and stop times, and baking temperature start and stop times.

The range is also programmed to kick into an automatic low-temperature warming time for up to an hour, and features an additional cooling stage that can keep food refrigerated for up to 24 hours. The latter option allows the oven to double as a second refrigerator for temporarily storing food or beverages.

The Polara will be offered in white, stainless steel, black and biscuit finishes, and is slated to reach retailers by the beginning of July 2002. Suggested retail price: approximately $1,800.

Amana, the newest addition to the Maytag brand family, took a different value-added tack in refrigeration by introducing a model that not only chills food, but also talks back. The Amana Messenger refrigerator boasts a built-in voice memo function that allows consumers to record messages for other household members with the touch of a button.

According to Maytag Appliances president Bill Beer, the unit's digital voice recording capability is a high-tech update on sticky notes and memo pads. It also comes in recognition of refrigerators' central role in the kitchen, which has supplanted the living room as the heart of contemporary homes.

The 26-cubic-foot, Energy Star-rated machines also feature oversized fast-fill water dispensers, temperature-controlled beverage compartments, tilt-out door buckets and electronic monitors that alert owners to a variety of refrigerator functions. The Messenger is priced to retail for $1,899 in white, black and bisque finishes, and $2,199 for the stainless steel option.

Meanwhile, tapping into Amana's engineering lead in the development of bottom freezer refrigeration, Maytag introduced four models that feature the bottom mount configuration. With suggested retails ranging from $949 to $1,299, the 18.6-cubic-foot and 21.9-cubic-foot units are offered in swing-door or pull-out freezer designs, and were inspired by consumer research showing that 73 percent of trips to the refrigerator are made to access the fresh food compartments.

The bottom mounts will be available in black, white, bisque and stainless door with black cabinet options, and are expected to reach retailers by late spring. Elsewhere at the show:

  • LG Electronics showcased a panel-type room air conditioner that sits flush with the wall and incorporates a plasma air-purifying filter that traps dust and other particles from the air, and a Trim Kit line of custom-look 19.5-cubic-foot refrigerators that are available in blue, black, stainless and marble finishes.

  • Viking Range Corp. used the Builders' Show forum to elicit feedback on a number of prototype units, including a $2,000 charcoal smoker, set to ship in the fourth quarter; stovetops in novel nickel stainless and onyx stainless finishes; and a freestanding 24-inch-wide gas range designed for apartment dwellers.

  • Sub-Zero debuted a 19.9-cubic-foot, commercial-look glass door refrigerator with three interior light settings and stainless steel finish. Shipping is set for the second quarter.

  • Wolf Appliance, now a subsidiary of Sub-Zero, introduced its first new products since its acquisition in March 2000, including built-in wall ovens; electric, gas and integrated cooktops; microwave ovens; warming drawers; ventilation products; and integrated modular components such as steamers, fryers, woks and grills. All are set to ship this quarter.

  • Marvel Industries launched a new high-end Luxury Series of undercounter wine and beverage storage refrigerators featuring an ultra-efficient 461 btu compressor and microprocessor-based thermostat and a range of glass door styles.

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