U.S. appliance executives expect production and sales will continue at a healthy pace. ``One driver in 1996 will be the introduction of a new laundry line by GE Appliances in late 1995,'' said Robert Holding, president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers of Chicago. ``There will be a competitive reaction, and there will be a lot of promotion.''
GE claims its new Profile Maxus washing machine is a breakthrough. The injection-molded polypropylene tub and related components are suspended to minimize vibration and noise from unbalanced loads. The larger model, at 3.2 cubic feet, also is the largest residential model on the market. GE replaced metal tubs in the new washer line.
New products, such as the washer and a generation of more energy-efficient refrigerators and other appliances, will be key to sales this year. Holding said sales also will benefit from some pent-up demand that drove growth in 1994, a record-breaking year, and in 1995. Funds freed from mortgage refinancing, ``which can convince a consumer to buy a whole new kitchen,'' also could fuel growth, he said.
U.S. appliance OEMs predict they will ship about 53 million units in 1996. That's about what they shipped in 1995, surpassing their expectations and nearly equaling 1994's record. At the end of November, appliance shipments were 0.1 percent off the record pace of 1994. If the industry reaches its 1996 goal, it would be an unprecedented three strong years, Holding said.
``The economy has been favorable,'' said a Maytag Corp. spokesman. ``We expect continued strong sales.''
Refrigerator parts molder Beach Mold & Tool Inc. of New Albany, Ind., expects a workload similar to last year's.
``That's not bad news at all,'' said its president, Doug Batliner.
Not all parts molders can expect to reap benefits from the appliance market's continued strength. GE does its own PP tub molding at Louisville, Ky., for its new washer. GE also recently bought a 3,000-ton HPM press to mold dishwasher tubs. Maytag said it continues to pare down its supplier base.
Holding said appliance majors may be more profitable in 1996 because raw material prices should soften. Whirlpool Corp. cited high material costs as one reason it expected its fourth-quarter profit in 1995 to fall short of earlier forecasts.