Major appliance manufacturers are going beyond cosmetic improvements when it comes to new washers and dryers. In accordance with a landmark agreement this spring between the Department of Energy and majap manufacturers to improve energy efficiency, they are redesigning laundry-care products from the inside out in ways they say should appeal to the average U.S. household.
The approach seems to be working. Based on laundry products' sales so far this year, the category is expected to see 1.8 percent more sales than last year, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
GE Appliances is emphasizing speed with its new fully electronic washer and dryer, called the Wizard line, which it will introduce to retailers on Aug. 28. Chris Pruniski, marketing manager for GE's clothes care division, said the new product "has some very unique attributes and is very intuitive."
Both washer and dryer are "one touch" machines with LED readouts.
The Wizard washer includes stain wash, speed wash, preset sorting and customized sorting features. Together, the speed wash and dry cycles can do a small "emergency" load in less than 30 minutes, which is "about 50 percent faster than the other manufacturers' speed cycles," Pruniski said.
The washer and dryer also have "smart" features, which allow them to, over time, come to know the size of a user's various loads and more efficiently complete them, he said.
Another nuance to the dryer is an anti-bacteria cycle, co-developed with the National Sanitation Foundation, that uses a combination of heat and time to kill all bacteria, said Pruniski.
The Wizard washer and electric dryer have suggested retails of $799 and $649, respectively. Included in the price is a 10-year warranty, which is an industry first and will "alleviate the consumers' concern about electronics," said Kim Freeman, program manager for GE appliances.
Maytag is also focusing its efforts on energy- and time-saving features with new versions of its Neptune washer and dryer, which it plans to roll out to retailers in late September or early October, a spokesperson said.
The company said the Neptune washer, which has the "largest, usable capacity of any residential washer on the market," will use nearly 40 percent less water, or 23 gallons, and 65 percent less energy per load. The washer is also called the "quietest Maytag washer engineered to date."
Other features include a trilingual display screen (French, Spanish or English), synchronized timing between the Neptune washer and dryer, and onscreen troubleshooting.
One of the most unusual characteristics of the washer is the "Stain Brain," which lets users scroll through a list of up to 55 of the most common stains -- such as coffee or ketchup -- with the washer providing proper cleaning instructions or tips. Users can also customize the washing cycle options by programming in up to 24 of their regular loads.
The Neptune products will come in two models: one with a touch pad for commands, which will sell for $999 for the washer and $599 for the dryer; and a second, higher-end line with LCD screen that is expected to be priced between $400 to $600 more.
Frigidaire introduced its current line of laundry products, its Gallery Series of toploading washers and matching dryers, in April at K/BIS. A spokesman said the company did not have any other significant laundry debuts planned for 2000.
The Gallery Series, consisting of five new washers and four dryers, has been updated stylistically to give it a more modern appearance and features large wash baskets, dual-action agitators and 3/4 horsepower motors, according to the company. Frigidaire's front-loading tumble machines have also received a face-lift recently, a spokesman said.
"The clean and modern new graphic appearance of the Frigidaire Gallery Series laundry products adds to their visual appeal," said Tom Bennett, laundry products marketing manager. "And the heavy-duty transmission and motor, plus super capacity, make them tough enough to handle the dirtiest laundry through the years."
The top of the line, model FWS975GH, has three speeds, 15 cycles, seven wash/rinse combinations, and a new automatic temperature control. It also boasts the "Sound Silencer Plus," which keeps normal operating noise to a minimum, power scrub, power spin, automatic extra rinse, and a hand-wash setting. It has a suggested retail of $449.
The top-of-the-line dryer, model FDE/G875GH, has three automatic and four timed drying settings, four temperature selections, a refresher cycle, press saver, and an automatic moisture sensor. It also offers a convenient drum light and a drying rack, and carries a $369 retail price.
Both are available in white or almond.
Fisher & Paykel doesn't have any plans for introductions in the second half this year, said U.S. marketing manager Bryce Wells, because the company just launched its Ecosmart washing machine in May. The Ecosmart -- which features an extra-large 3-cubic-foot basket, dual-action wash, high spin speed (up to 1,000 rpm), and precise water delivery -- has received the EPA's Energy Star label and is said to cut a household's annual energy costs by $170.
"Many people are looking to cut their energy costs without compromising on appliance performance," Wells said. "The Energy Star rating reinforces that Ecosmart truly is a `green' product, yet it comes with all the ingenious bells and whistles that buyers have come to expect from a Fisher & Paykel appliance."
With a retail price of $699, the Ecosmart spins clothes so dry the drying time is cut by up to 30 percent, the company said. Also, to improve garment care, the washer pre-mixes the water before adding it to the clothes, and includes five wash cycles and five water temperatures.
Other options include Time Saver, which allows an outfit to be washed and dried in just over a half an hour, Delay Start and Soak.
The Fisher & Paykel unit comes in only white.
Amana Appliances will be introducing a special-edition premium washer and dryer in September. The washer, model ALW891SAW, will retail for $649, and the dryer, ALE868QAW, will retail for $499.