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GE & DOJ Turn Up Cooking Category Heat

GE Appliances is boosting production at its LaFayette, Ga., oven plant despite an activist U.S. Justice Department (DOJ) that’s already wary of its cooking capacity.

Two years after the vendor announced an $88 million investment there, the facility is ramping up with new hires and the addition of a third manufacturing shift.

The Roper Corp. factory, which is a wholly-owned subsidiary of GE, produces pro-style Monogram French door wall ovens; the latest line of freestanding ranges, with edge-to-edge cooktops; and induction cooktops with Bluetooth and smartphone controls under the Café, Profile and Monogram sub-brands.

“Consumers are clearly responding favorably to our investment in our cooking products. Sales are growing and, in turn, so are American jobs,” said Paul Surowiec, the company’s product general manager, cooking. “These new products incorporate quality craftsmanship, the latest technology and great features that are delighting consumers and our retail and builder partners.”

But the investment in LaFayette comes as the fate of GE’s appliance business hangs in the balance. After being on an off the auction block for years, the division is set to be sold to Electrolux for $3.3 billion. But the deal has raised the hackles of the Justice Department, which is attempting to block the merger with an antitrust suit.

To that end, the DOJ has been busy deposing industry authorities to support its point that the concentration of commercial cooking production within a combined GE-Electrolux “would leave millions of Americans vulnerable to price increases for ranges, cooktops and wall ovens,” Assistant Attorney General Leslie Overton has said.

But armed with a federal-court motion to subpoena Samsung and LG, Electrolux lawyers are out to demonstrate that the appliance business is more fractured, and competitive, than the DOJ comprehends. Among their evidence:
• a major U.S. push by Turkish powerhouse Arcelik/Blomberg;
• Haier’s $72 million expansion of its South Carolina manufacturing complex;
• a planned $2.7 million R&D facility by Chinese majap giant Midea, to be built in GE’s Louisville backyard; and
• Best Buy’s aggressive rollout of Samsung appliance shops

At press time, the anti-trust trial was slated for Nov. 9.