New Appliance Ideas that Flopped

*Three Appliance Industry Epic Fails

During a career in the major appliance industry I've witnessed the introduction and growth of many great new products such as microwave ovens, convection ovens, induction cooktops, steam washers and dryers, french door refrigerators, and professional ranges for the home.

There have been a number of product flops, too. Here are three notable failures over the last two decades.

Whirlpool Polara Refrigerator/Range

Whirlpool's Polara represents an idea whose time never came. The idea was that you could take a roast from the fridge in the morning, pop it in the Polara where the roast would be kept cold by the Polara's refrigerator coils. At the appropriate time the refrigeration unit would shut off and the heating unit would kick in to cook your roast so that it would be ready just in time for dinner.

Alas, consumers were underwhelmed by this product. The operation of the Polara was far from intuitive. Over the years, consumers have shown that they have no patience for products with a steep learning curve. In addition, the Polara was fraught with service problems. Perhaps, the coupe de grĂ¥ce was Whirlpool's decision to give the product a somewhat futuristic design, ignoring the fact that kitchen appliances need to fit in the kitchen, not in a spaceship.

Maytag Drying Center

Even though focus groups loved this idea (one particpant actually got out her checkbook), sales never met expectations on this traditional tumble dryer with an innovative, drying cabinet attached on top. Damp clothing hung on the drying rack inside the cabinet would be gently shaken as warm air circulated through the cabinet. Blouses, shirts, and sweaters dryed without tumbling and without wrinkling. In addition, the drying rack could be used to refresh sports coats and slacks, extending the time between dry cleanings.

Unfortunately. the drying cabinet did not fit in all laundry rooms. It was a few inches wider than standard dryers, and the extra height of the drying cabinet could not be accomodated where there were shelves or cabinets above the dryer space. Since we tend to view the dryer as a companion piece to the washer, sales and marketing resources never seem to be devoted to dryers as a separate item.

Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP

Throughout the 80's and 90's, the microwave oven was the hottest (no pun intended) appliance in the country, but microwave ovens have two major flaws. Foods cooked in microwave ovens don't brown, and they tend to dry out food, especially breads or baked products. One solution to this is to use “air-impingement” technology as a substitute and a supplement to microwave power. Pre-heated air is forced through small holes at a high speed. Along with microwave power, this system heats food quickly, allows browning, and keeps food moist. The Jenn-Air Accellis 5XP was an early example of this technology.

The Accellis 5XP had a space age, Jetson-like look. It was extraordinarily noisy, and unreliable. In addition, Jenn-Air did not size the Accellis 5XP to fit in standard cabinet dimensions. Developed as a joint-venture with TurboChef, Jenn-Air soon decided to beat a hasty retreat, buying back the few Accellis 5XPs that had been sold. TurboChef went on to successfully market their version of air-impingement speed cooking to the commercial market where it can be seen today in Subway restaurants and Starbucks throughout the country. TurboChef has also introduced a double oven for the home.

Each of these three products had fatal flaws. None of them received the marketing investment and attention that would make them a game changer, even if they weren't flawed.

It's important to recognize that all industries need failures to help steer them in the right direction. Both the Polara and Accellis 5XP had some innovative ideas that can be found in use today. On the other hand, their radical departures from customer expectations such as the Jetson-like appearances of these items, made them hard to sell even to consumers who would otherwise buy the products for their advanced features.

Today, we are experiencing a renaissance of innovation in new appliances as smart appliances are getting smarter with the addition of technology that makes our appliances connected. Stay tuned, as we kick off the New Year with a series of blogs reviewing some of these new innovations for appliances.

*The above content first appeared in a personal blog back in 2014 – aj.


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