10 Major Appliance Movers & Shakers In 2018
Once upon a time, the major appliance business was boring.
Once upon a time, the
major appliance business was boring.
A handful of manufacturers ruled the roost; majap dealers referred to their sales floors as “seas of white”; and even the category’s industry moniker, “white goods,” underscored the products’ sameness. If anything, 2018 has underscored how much that’s all changed, as majaps became a tech and fashion category, Asia continues to reshape the market, and legacy brands look to reinvigorate themselves as newcomers vie for a piece of the appliance pie.
Click through to see what ruled the majap headlines this year as part of our
annual end-of-the-year Newsmakers series.
With its merger pains largely behind it following its 2016 purchase by the mighty Qingdao Haier — arguably the world’s largest appliance manufacturer by unit volume —
GE has set its sights on displacing Whirlpool from the top spot in the U.S. majap market. Under post-acquisition CEO Kevin Nolan, the company has developed a five-year plan, bankrolled by Haier, that calls for increased production capacity and stepped up R&D spend, with a focus on connected home.
As competition within the major appliance business heats up, mass market manufacturers like LG Electronics have extended their reach into the high-margin niche category of luxury white goods. LG’s
entree is its super-premium and standalone Signature badge, which this year grew beyond its debut refrigerator, washer/dryer and air purifier into the wine cellar sector.
Like LG, Samsung has been eagerly eyeing the super-premium appliance market. Unlike LG, which developed a separate luxury badge internally, the fellow Korean company
went out and bought one: Dacor. This year the California cooking resource upped the ante with an updated Modernist collection that now includes a pro-style dual-fuel steam range, an induction cooktop and a new coordinating hood. Samsung has additionally put its upscale subsidiary to work within the builder channel, providing built-in luxury packages for Florida’s Medallion Home.
The world’s biggest majap maker by dollar volume had much to cheer about in 2018. Its dogged pursuit of appliance rivals Samsung and LG through various courts, commissions and tribunals finally paid off with the imposition of stiff safeguard tariff-rate quotas on imported washers, designed to level the playing field with Korea’s government-subsidized models. But as the saying goes, be careful what you wish for: After developing a taste for sanctions, the Trump administration went on to engage China and others in a trade war that sent cost prices on components and raw materials soaring.
The German-owned trilogy of luxury majap brands that is BSH —
Bosch, Thermador and Gaggenau — managed to sidestep many of this year’s tariff tribulations thanks to the company’s farsighted embrace of domestic manufacturing. The Irvine, Calif.-based business operates no less than four major facilities here, including production plants in La Follette, Tenn., and New Bern, N.C., and R&D centers in New Bern and Knoxville and Caryville, Tenn. Bosch, in particular, has been giving the factories a workout, after expanding distribution to The Home Depot last summer.
Considered a progenitor of the chunky knobbed, stainless steel-finished, commercial-look home kitchen range, Viking now finds itself a victim of its own success, surrounded by all manner of mass-premium and luxury-market competitors.
To protect its flanks, the company — now owned by commercial majap giant The Middleby Corp. and led by Maytag and Whirlpool veteran and former engineering exec Kevin Brown — has added an affordable entry-level 3 Series kitchen suite and, for the “hyper-luxury” market, a 7 Series line. Guarding the middle is Viking Virtuoso, the company’s first optional integrated platform, aimed squarely at the Euro-style millennial market.
OK, so Sub-Zero is the brand to beat in luxury refrigeration, and
Wolf has long been on the prowl in super-premium cooking. But that still left the company one category shy of a complete kitchen offering. Enter Cove, the newest member of the brand family. Introduced last spring, the luxury dishwasher boasts 41 jet sprays on three arms; near silent operation; an LED-lit interior; over 200 cycle combinations; and an industry-leading 5-year warranty. Named for a tranquil body of water, Cove dishwashers represent the final leg in the company’s kitchen suite pursuit.
The 84-year-old majap maker long straddled all price tiers in its native New Zealand. But striking out beyond the South Pacific, the company
aimed high with innovative design concepts like its popular DishDrawer drawer-style dishwashers. Adding extra oomph was its 2012 acquisition by Qingdao Haier, which positioned F&P as its premium global kitchen and laundry brand. Though plans to cross-pollinate with high-end stablemate GE Monogram have seemingly cooled, the brand continues to cross channels with a new range of luxury kitchen products that are equally at home in a designer showroom or Lowe’s.
Sharp long ago made its mark in microwave ovens, both above and below the countertop, and in recent years has built upon that legacy with creative line extensions like its Superheated Steam combi-ovens, gesture-activated drawer oven, and co-branded Orville Redenbacher microwave with popcorn presets. Clearly enjoying the heat, Sharp is reinforcing its place in the kitchen with a new wall oven and induction cooktop. Eventually though, it hopes to chill out and clean up with the company’s first full-size refrigerators and dishwashers, as it moves toward becoming a complete kitchen resource.
As if the kitchen category wasn’t already crowded enough, a disruptive new mass-premium brand from California barreled its way into showrooms and kitchens this year with a combination of American styling, global sourcing, Chinese production and competitive pricing. Thor’s first shot across the bow was a complete high-performance, pro-style kitchen — French door fridge, freestanding gas range and hood, and dishwasher, all in stainless — for less than $5,000 retail last spring.
Managing director Kyle You followed that up in the summer with a compact indoor/outdoor refrigerator drawer in 304 stainless for a hard-to-beat $1,299. But pricing is one thing; harder to control are Chinese import tariffs, with a planned Jan. 1 increase delayed, and the firestorm that raged outside its headquarters town of Chino in November. What impact, if any, those factors will have on the Norse-god-named appliance line remains to be seen.