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GE's slate finish is latest challenger to stainless steel

Consumer Reports News: September 06, 2012 01:18 PM

GE is the latest manufacturer to roll out a new finish for its major appliances. Slate, a gray-toned metallic with slightly less sheen than the stainless steel it's looking to succeed, launches this month across a suite of appliances that includes French-door refrigerators, freestanding gas and electric ranges, dishwashers, and an over-the-range microwave.

"During our conversations with designers and consumers, they expressed their strong desire for an alternative to stainless steel," said Brian McWaters, brand general manager for GE Appliances, in the news release. "With the launch of Slate, we're offering a new finish that has a warm, rich look and feel that tested very well in our research."

The question is, will those models in which Slate is available test well in Consumer Reports' appliance labs? While GE has several models on our recommended list of gas and electric ranges, it also has some underperformers in those product categories. Among refrigerators, our top-rated side-by-side model is a GE, though issues with reliability have kept GE bottom-freezers off our recommended list.

GE_slate_range.jpgGE says it is investing as heavily in the performance of its appliance as in their style and design. For example, a redesigned icemaker will supposedly address the high frequency of repair that has been an issue with certain GE refrigerators in the past. See our Brand Reliability data for more details.

Earlier this year, Whirlpool unveiled its Ice Collection of appliances, which includes a glossy white finish for dishwashers, microwave ovens, ranges, and refrigerators. "White is the new stainless," the July 2012 news release said. The collection also includes a sleek Black Ice finish.

As the Wall Street Journal reported in "After Stainless, Now What?" the development of the Ice Collection was spearheaded by Patrick Schiavone, Whirlpool's vice president of global consumer design, who joined the appliance manufacturer in 2010 after two decades as a car and truck designer at Ford Motor Co. "We wanted to make [the Ice Collection finishes] as beautiful as stainless steel," Schiavone told the Journal. "We want it to feel more like it was meant to be in the space, rather than be some futurist styling of machinery."

Since the Whirlpool Ice Collection has been out longer than the GE Slate, we've had a chance to get it into our labs. For example, testing is underway of the Whirlpool Gold WRF989SDAH, a $2,600 French-door bottom-freezer with a claimed capacity of 29 cubic feet, a through-the-door ice and water dispenser, LED lighting, and other features.

We'll report back on how this and other Ice Collection models perform, as well as GE appliances with the new Slate finish. For stainless steel's reign to end, these first-generation models will need to look good while performing well.

Daniel DiClerico

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