At the Berlin Consumer Electronics Show, Futuristic Fridges are Displayed

 At the Berlin Consumer Electronics Show, Futuristic Fridges are Displayed
Europe's top consumer electronics show generally showcases gadgets that make life more entertaining with the latest flat screen televisions, stereo equipment and the like.
But this year the Internationale Funkausstellung, opening in Berlin on Friday, will for the first time see usually more down-to-earth appliances like fridges and washing machines fighting for attention.

According to organisers of the six-day show, which hopes to attract more than 200,000 visitors, the inclusion of white goods reflects what they call a "worldwide trend for more comfort in the home and for healthier eating."

And in these days of soaring energy bills and growing environmental consciousness about global warming and water resources, they also offer greater efficiency.

In an effort to boost flagging sales, makers of these normally commonplace home appliances have given them an image revamp, with even the humble vacuum cleaner made to look futuristic and exciting at the Ifa.

But it is not all superficial. There have also been changes under the hoods of many of these products, with mechanical controls ripped out to be replaced by high-tech electronics.

There are "intelligent" washing machines on display from Bosch for example that adapt the amount of water used to the weight of what is being washed, while dishwashers make more efficient use of every last drop.

Fridges just keep things cool, you might think. But no, fridges at the Ifa have in-built LCD televisions and send you a shopping list of what you need -- by email.

Reinhard Zinkann, head of the family-owned household appliance maker Miele, says the industry is banking on the message of improved efficiency to get Germans to replace their energy-guzzling older machines.

But Zinkann and the industry association he heads have their work cut out in attempting to persuade consumers in a slowing economy to part with their money for appliances they may feel they don't need.

At present Germans only get new appliances every 15 years on average, and rising prices and weaker economic conditions mean that many households have an ever-dwindling amount of euros available to spend each month.

As Zinkann, who is also head of the German household appliances industry association, admits, "the environment is difficult".

Germany's ZVEI industry federation has forecast that growth in the second half of 2008 is likely to be "considerably slower" than the first six months of the year, when the sector was hardly booming either.

Makers of vacuum cleaners and fridges are not the only ones hoping for renewed interest in their products. Organisers of Ifa are also hoping to give a shot in the arm to their show, now more than 80 years old.

Only two years ago, Ifa organisers decided to make it an annual event -- it was every two years before.

Ifa, with 1,245 exhibitors from 63 countries -- up from 1,212 from 32 nations last year -- runs until September 3.


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