Whirlpool’s Low-cost Washing Machines

WSJ has a story on how Whirlpool has created a cheaper washing machine specifically for India, China and Brazil:

Whirlpool invested $30 million over 18 months to develop the washing machine in Brazil. But the Ideale is a global project because it is also being manufactured in China and India. The washer was launched in October in Brazil and China (where its Chinese name means Super Hand-Washing Washer). It will debut in India early next year, followed by other developing countries. The target retail price: $150 to $200. That compares with the average washer price in the U.S. of $461, Whirlpool says.

The people’s washing-machine project shows how Whirlpool has decentralized its operations, shifting more design work to developing countries.

Despite declining appliance sales in Latin America’s largest market in recent years, there was apparent demand among Brazil’s 30 million low-income households, which account for about one-third of all national consumption. Independent surveys indicated that automatic washers are the second most-coveted item by low-income consumers, after cellphones. Whirlpool researchers delved into the washing habits and mind-set of poor Brazilian homemakers through focus-group discussions and visits to households. Whirlpool engineers “adopted” dozens of consumers to give them feedback during the development of Ideale.

Whirlpool was convinced that it had to start from scratch to make a product that was affordable and appealing to the average Brazilian worker, who earns about $220 a month. “It wasn’t a matter of stripping down an existing model,” says Marcelo Rodrigues, Whirlpool’s top washing-machine engineer in Latin America. “We had to innovate for the masses,” said Mr. Rodrigues, who is director of laundry technology at Multibrs SA Eletrodomsticos, the Brazilian unit of Whirlpool.

Am amazed that the IT industry still refuses to create solutions that are affordable for the world’s emerging markets.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.