SMART TOILETS ARRIVE IN US0>
YoshiakiFujimoi wants to be the Steve Jobs of toilets. Like iPhones, app-packed commodes are objects of desire in Japan. The lids lift automatically. The seats heat up. Built-in bidets make cleanup a breeze. Some of them even sync with users' smartphones via Bluetooth so that they can program their preferences and play their favorite music through speakers built into the bowl.
Three-quarters of Japanese homes contain such toilets, most of them made by Toto Ltd. or Lixil Corp. Lixil plans to add toilets with "integrated bidets" to the lineup of American Standard Brands, which Lixil acquired last year for $542 million.
Lixil believes Americans will welcome bidet-equipped toilets into their homes once they see them sold under a familiar name. Toto and Kohler have been selling toilets with bidet functions in the US for several years. The price, which can range up to more than $5,000 for high-end models--is more than ten times the price of some conventional toilets.
In a 2011 appearance on The Oprah Winfrey Show, actress Whoopi Goldberg called her Toto Washlet "the greatest invention on the face of the earth."
Jay Gould, CEO of American Standard, said the company aims to sell $50 million of bidet-equipped toilets annually within three years. American Standard plans a $3-5 million US advertising campaign to promote its bidet-equipped toilets. Ferguson, a US plumbing distributor, has agreed to display the toilets at hundreds of showrooms across the country.
Toto has made deals with luxury hotels like the Kitano in New York to install Washlets in all their guest bathrooms. The company says consumers who discover the toilets in this way are buying them for their homes, where their friends will learn about them too.
Toto's US arm has been playing down the cleansing wizardry of its Washlets and emphasizing the environmental benefits. Some Toto toilets use less than four liters of water per flush, one-third or one-quarter the amount of some conventional toilets.
In Japan, both Lixil and Toto face a challenge from Panasonic, which is emphasizing features that it says will keep toilet bowls cleaner. A new model automatically lowers the water level by three centimeters when the seat is lifted. These kinds of features are seen as selling points in cleanliness-obsessed Japan. To Americans, however, Japanese toilets, with their menu of smartphone-like buttons arrayed alongside the bowl, can seem daunting. Mr. Fujimori maintains that once American consumers try such toilets, they won't go back. This improves your standard of living," he said. "It doesn't hurt you. People like comfort, they like ease, they like automatic. And people like clean."
Pfanner, Eric and Atsuko Fukase, "SmartToilets Arrive
in U.S.," The Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2014, p. B8
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