ORLANDO, FLA. — If the major appliance industry is in a slump, you'd never know it from the upbeat mood and considerable product array on display at last month's Kitchen/Bath Industry Show (K/BIS).
Despite lackluster wholesale sales, manufacturers and their retail customers were optimistic that the innovative, high-end cooking, refrigeration, dishwasher and laundry lines introduced here would spur the consumer to a want-in rather than a wear-out purchasing cycle, and that their margin-nurturing features will win out over cutthroat pricing.
A good example of vendor investment in a bright white goods future came from GE, which debuted entirely new dishwasher and refrigeration platforms within its top-of-the-line Monogram program. The dishwasher contingent included integrated, built-in, fully wrapped and Professional Series styles featuring new turbidity sensors that set water temperatures and cycle lengths to match soil levels, while a forced-air drying system is designed to drive out moisture and leave dishes "gleaming and put-away dry." Estimated retails will range from $749 to $1149, with shipping to begin this fall.
On the refrigeration front, GE has incorporated the climate-control drawers and express chill/thaw features of its previously introduced Arctica Profile into the Monogram line via a range of built-in and side-by-side models that will list between $4,499 to $5,599 when they appear at retail this fall.
For other major domestic manufacturers, cooking was clearly the focus at K/BIS. Maytag, for example, bowed five new versions of its Gemini double-oven range that boasted expanded features and a broadened price spectrum that now hits popular retails. Key conveniences include a low-wattage Warming Center element on the cooktop that helps keep food warm; a Keep Warm feature that automatically sets the oven temperature to 170 degrees to keep hot meals table-ready; and an "advanced cooking system" that eliminates hot and cool spots for even baking on two racks. Anticipated retails will range from $799 to $1,499 for the group, with shipping slated to begin this summer.
Likewise, Whirlpool expanded its cooking contingent with a new line of freestanding ranges that features an AccuBake Duo System, which provides concise temperature control thanks to an additional temperature sensor that's been added within the oven cavity. Other features include a warming drawer with five programmable settings; a quiet, easy-to-close door; and a ChoiceBake option that allows custom baking for specific foods by deselecting the top broiler element in the oven in order to continue cooking without browning. Shipping is set for late August, and price points are expected to top off at $1,149 for the stainless model.
Meanwhile, Frigidaire, which had refrained from showing at February's Builders Show in Atlanta, made up for lost time with a massive introduction that hit on the cooking, dishwashing, refrigeration and super-high-end fronts. Among the former is a new Precision Set collection of electric ranges that, rather than cycle the surface elements on and off, controls the heat ouput the same way a dimmer switch controls a light bulb. The result, says Frigidaire, is a continuous, even temperature control that is accurate and repeatable, and that allows for such delicate tasks as melting chocolate scorchlessly without a double broiler. The grouping is priced to hit an opening retail price point of $999 and has already commenced shipping.
Its companion "Precision Wash System" dishwasher series was so named for its Energy Star rating, its ability to wash the upper and lower racks separately, and for its new upscale "UltraSoft" design with easier-to-read graphics. Similarly, Frigidaire has increased the energy efficiency of its fully revamped, 20-model refrigeration line by 40 percent, following a $200 million design overhaul and reinvestment in two factories. The units feature a convenient PureSource 2 ice and water filtration system, a PrecisionTemp managed air flow system for improved food preservation, plus faster cooling time and increased ice-making capacity.
Elsewhere, the company offered a sneak peek of the first European style, super-high-end cooking products that it plans to introduce in 2002 under the Electrolux brand. Components include a Competence convection wall oven and a 77-inch-long Front-Line collection cooking center that features a wok burner, ceramic griddle, heating zone and four gas burners.