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Sears Bows Whirlpool Front Loader

Building on the success of their high-end Calypso laundry line, Sears and Whirlpool have collaborated again on a super premium washer and paired dryer.

The new front-loading unit, dubbed Kenmore Elite HE3t, will carry a $1,500 ticket when it’s rolled out to Sears stores next month. Whirlpool, as it did with Calypso, will follow the intro with its own open line mirror model, tentatively titled Duet, that’s expected to reach retailers this fall.

The new washer, made in Germany by Whirlpool’s European operation, represents a direct response to Maytag’s milestone Neptune platform. Introduced in 1997, the high-efficiency, $1,400 Neptune became the first widely accepted front loader in a nation where eight out of 10 consumers prefer top-load design.

The HE3t also extends Whirlpool’s — and Sears’— strategy of trading up shoppers to higher-margin models as the big box chains battle it out at the low end on price (see TWICE interview with Whirlpool head Mike Todman, above).

The lure for consumers, the partners believe, is the promise of steep savings on water and electric bills amid the current energy crunch. Indeed, Sears says the high-efficiency washer (hence the “HE” in its name) uses only about 16 gallons of water per cycle compared to 42 gallons for the typical top loader, and automatically sets the water level to suit the load. The machine also boasts a built-in water heater, or thermal booster (the “t” in HE3t), that can heat the water to over 150 degrees to help remove stubborn stains.

The washer’s 3.7-cubic-foot stainless steel wash basket is represented by the “3” in its title, which refers to its trio of features: large capacity, cleaning power and energy conservation. To underscore the last point, Sears unveiled the sleek, European-styled unit last month in California, ground zero for the energy crisis.