A G.E. worker performing tests on a refrigerator at a company plant in Louisville, Ky.Credit Angela Shoemaker for The New York Times
Updated, 8:08 p.m. | General Electric is again in discussions over a potential sale of its appliances business, the century-old division that gave birth to the washer-dryer and the toaster oven.
One suitor is the Swedish appliance maker Electrolux, which confirmed on Thursday that it was in talks about an acquisition.
Another, more unusual, potential buyer is the aptly named Quirky, a consumer products start-up based in New York. It is working with the private equity firm the Blackstone Group, according to a person with knowledge of the matter.
Both sets of suitors are part of a range of potential new owners for G.E.’s appliances unit, one of the oldest in the conglomerate.
The talks are at least the second time that G.E. has held discussions to divest itself of the unit, after first trying six years ago. Among those that the company negotiated with at the time were Electrolux and the Asian appliance manufacturers Samsung and LG. But those discussions fell apart in the onset of the financial crisis.
For Electrolux, an acquisition would significantly bolster its business. Already one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of home appliances and industrial equipment, it reported sales of 109 billion Swedish kronor, or about $15.9 billion, last year. Yet G.E.’s appliance and lighting division alone generated $8.3 billion in revenue during that same period.
Electrolux already draws nearly half of its sales from the Americas, with kitchen appliances making up 60 percent of sales.
“No agreement has been reached, and there can be no assurances that an agreement will be reached,” the Swedish company said in its statement.
More intriguing as a suitor is Quirky, a five-year-old start-up that uses crowdsourcing to rapidly generate ideas for household products. It then winnows those ideas, selects a few to develop and typically designs the product, making prototypes and arranging for the manufacturing. Products often get to retail chains like Home Depot in three to four months.
Quirky’s lean, high-speed model of product design and development has attracted the attention of traditional manufacturers — G.E. most of all.
G.E. has invested $30 million in Quirky. The companies are working together to develop some products, including a so-called smart air-conditioner, whose sensors track household activity and room temperatures and automatically adjust settings.
Quirky’s revenue is on track to reach $100 million this year, the company says. It has raised a total of $175 million, mostly from leading venture capital firms like Andreessen Horowitz and Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Bloomberg News earlier reported the talks on General Electric’s appliance business.
The division dates back to General Electric’s early days and is the most direct connection most consumers have with G.E.
It introduced its first electric toaster in 1905 and the first electric range, the Hotpoint, in 1910. Its first electric washing machine for homes was introduced in 1930.
The appliance business has become less important to G.E. in recent years, particularly as the company’s huge finance arm dwarfed it. The appliance and lighting unit accounted for only about 6 percent of the company’s $146 billion in revenue in 2013.
Since the financial crisis in the fall of 2008, Jeffrey R. Immelt, G.E.’s chief executive, has sought to return the company’s focus to its core industrial businesses.
The company has sold or spun off several of those noncore businesses in recent years, including agreeing to sell NBCUniversal, its television and media empire, to Comcast, the largest cable operator in the United States, for about $30 billion in 2009.
In July, G.E. spun off its North American retail finance arm, now known as Synchrony Financial, in an initial public stock offering.
Steve Lohr contributed reporting.
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