issue: January 2008 APPLIANCE Magazine
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by Wasaku Ishida, Japan correspondent and president, JARN (Japan Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration News)
A heat wave visited Japan in the summer of 2007 and helped jump-start refrigerator sales. This was welcomed by appliance producers in Japan after the short summer of 2006 dragged refrigerator sales down. In 2007, the industry was also helped by demand to replace refrigerators purchased during the early 1990s. Residential refrigerator demand on the whole picked up during the year.
A spike in refrigerator sales came in 1996, when a looming consumption tax increase drove demand in Japan to 5.36 million units, according to data compiled by the Japan Electrical Manufacturers Association (JEMA). Another spike came in 2000, when the Home Appliance Recycling Law helped push sales to 5.32 million units. The two spikes kept the average over the 1996–2000 period at above 5 million units.
At an estimated replacement cycle time of 10 years, replacement demand should continue at about 5 million units per year for the next five years. However, since recent refrigerators have improved in performance and have longer product life spans, a relatively large number of appliance buyers are actually looking to replace refrigerators that are 15 to 20 years old.
To address the changes in consumer lifestyles, appliance producers are focusing their R&D efforts on large-capacity refrigerators. In 2007, OEMs developed more premium, 500-liter refrigerators, and even some 550-liter refrigerators appeared at retail.
Matsushita is promoting a refrigerator that manages to put more relative capacity into a compact unit by relocating the compressor to the top of the refrigerator, so the size of the freezer compartment can be increased.
Mitsubishi Electric Corp. launched what it calls the world’s first instantaneous freezing function, using a cold-water solution that does not freeze even below 0°C. When a food item is placed inside the compartment, an airstream control prevents the food from being hit directly by chilled air. The temperature of the item is measured and it is deliberately subjected to uneven temperature distribution. This method of cooling is intended to prevent cells from being destroyed, thus preserving the taste quality of the food.
For a new large-capacity refrigerator, the Big Enough Fine Cooling Unit, Hitachi Appliances incorporated the industry’s first motor-driven drawer, which can be pulled open using about one tenth of the effort required for the previous model. Such a feature is considered useful by many users because crisper compartments have increased in capacity and have become heavier as a result.