TOKYO -- Consumers in Japan are rushing to buy major appliances, particularly up-market models, before the consumption tax rises in April, prompting manufacturers to ramp up production.
Appliance shipments increased 4.3% to 2.28 trillion yen ($22 billion) in 2013, the highest in 10 years, according to data released Monday by the Japan Electrical Manufacturers' Association.
Amid the scorching heat of last summer, shipments of room air conditioners rose 8.2% to about 720.9 billion yen. In volume terms, they reached the highest ever in the survey's history, which dates back to 1972.
Shipments of refrigerators increased 6.4% to 436.7 billion yen, while washing machines posted 2.3% growth to 291.8 billion yen. These strong numbers for appliances compare with a 16.7% drop in shipments of flat-panel TVs to 5.37 million units.
To seize what seems a golden opportunity to boost sales, appliance manufacturers are revving up output. Toshiba is churning out about 20% more fridges and washers this month and next under an undisclosed plan. Output of fridges with a vegetable drawer in the center will come to an estimated 60,000 units a month, while the number is projected at 90,000 for quiet washers featuring a high-performance motor.
Mitsubishi Electric is boosting refrigerator output by 20%. With production of smaller models reduced, the firm initially anticipated overall output to stay flat on the year. But encouraged by "recent strong sales," as a company official put it, the firm upgraded its output plan for January and beyond, and is now building an estimated 70,000 units a month. High-end models with increased capacity -- or more than 30% than a decade ago despite having the same width -- are popular.
Panasonic expects to churn out upwards of 10,000 units a month of its top-of-the-line washer-dryer combos that debuted last fall, up 30% from the previous model's output.