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K/BIS Eyes On Future Of Majaps

Appliances designed to sell later this year, as well as later this decade, took center stage at this month’s Kitchen/Bath Industry Show in Chicago, as white-goods manufacturers’ newest high-tech concepts and product prototypes shared booth space with the next generations of current majap offerings.

Although cooking products were in the spotlight in terms of ready-for-market appliance offerings at the show, much of the K/BIS buzz was created by “concept” white goods and prototypes — although few were actually white. They included the “smart” appliances on view at several exhibits, Frigidaire’s Italian-made green Zanussi refrigerator, and the colorful compact refrigerators on view from companies such as Danby Products and Haier America Trading.

One prototype that drew steady traffic throughout the three-day event was Maytag’s Windstar Solutions minivan, developed in conjunction with Ford. The vehicle – which Maytag officials stressed was at K/BIS strictly to gauge attendee reaction – included a miniature microwave oven, refrigerator and washer/dryer built into the back of the van.

In addition, the Windstar Solutions featured a computer that could link to “smart” appliances in the future, up-front beverage holders to keep beverages hot or cold according to the consumer’s choice, and a TV screen/video game display built into the van’s roof.

Said Maytag Appliances president Bill Beer, “This is not about `Can we put appliances into a van?’ Our challenge was to think differently about the appliances we’re building, and in this case, the path we went down was miniaturization.”

Maytag had several other prototypes on view, including a portable Outback refreshment center in the form of a backpack and a refrigerator with eight built-in dispensers on its door, including a wine chiller.

As for new products due on retail floors this year, Maytag showed two more double-oven Gemini ranges. The Accellis 2X quick-cooking range is a companion to its Jenn-Air Accellis 5X built-in oven, and a second-generation Neptune washer/dryer pair boasts LCD touchpad controls and a Stain Brain feature that offers advice on laundering up to 60 different stains.

GE Appliances showed off a new Nautilus dishwasher aimed at the contract market. It also unveiled the Monogram Home, showing how its Monogram appliances could be installed in areas of the home beyond the kitchen. GE also had the prototype “smart” appliances it unveiled at the January Builders Show on view at K/BIS, as did Whirlpool.

New from Whirlpool at K/BIS was a Jet Defrost microwave oven, said to evenly defrost 1 pound of hamburger in just two minutes. Whirlpool also showed off its first entry into the bathroom-equipment market with a new Cielo line of soaking tubs and jetted tubs. Whirlpool’s KitchenAid division highlighted a new dishwasher, said to be its quietest ever, that uses 20% less water and electricity than prior models.

In addition to an improved version of its Screen Fridge with built-in computer, Frigidaire showed off a new slim-line Gallery dishwasher as well as a new, softer look for a family of midmarket appliances. The company also introduced a new line of laundry appliances – 10 front-loading washers and five matching dryers with revamped styling – and new Gallery refrigerators.

Executives of both large and small majap firms exhibiting at K/BIS told TWICE the first quarter’s strong sales volumes were a positive indication of another good year for the white-goods business.

“The first quarter was a lot better than we thought,” said Jim Campbell, sales and marketing VP for GE Appliances. Electric ranges, dishwashers and laundry appliances were sales standouts for GE in the first three months of 2000, he said, “and our preseason air conditioner sales have been particularly strong this year.”

Noted Maytag’s Beer, “The appliance industry continues to surprise all of us with the strength of its sales. For the last few years we’ve had conservative forecasts of up a point or two or down a point or two for industry sales, but those forecasts have been blown away every year, including the first quarter of 2000.”

Reinhard Metzger, president/COO of Bosch Home Appliances, declared, “We’ve had a great first quarter, and we expect the rest of this year to see solid sales. There are no indications the industry’s going backward.”

Michael Jemal, president of Haier America Trading, told TWICE, “Our business has been excellent so far this year; after the first three months our sales are topping 1999 levels by more than 100%.” Haier’s first U.S. air conditioner line, which the company recently began delivering, “has been better than great,” he added.n

Further news from K/BIS, including a rundown on what the smaller, niche manufacturers introduced at the show, will appear in the April 28 issue of TWICE.