Roborock (石头科技, 688169.SH), one of China’s largest sweeping robot makers, is rumored to unveil new washing machine and projector products in the short term.
A person familiar with the matter told reports from cls.cn, a Chinese financial news portal, that Roborock indeed has been developing a washer-dryer and a projector, but they will not make their debut at the product launch event scheduled for late February.
The washer-dryer might come first, the source was quoted as saying.
Roborock’s stock price has entered an upward track since this rumor began to circulate on February 7, when it surged as much as 7% during intraday trading.
As of the close of trading on Friday, its shares edged up 0.33% to 357.52 yuan (US$52.48) apiece from the previous trading day, with a market cap of 33.39 billion yuan.
The timing of Robock’s suspected entry into the white goods sector has sparked as much speculation as perplexity.
Data from AVC, a market intelligence provider, shows that the domestic market for washing machines in 2022 for the first time slipped below 70 billion yuan since 2016.
In 2022, the gross merchandise value (GMV) of washing machines sold through online and offline channels totaled 68.6 billion yuan, down 10.4% from the same period a year earlier. The retail sales volume slid 9.0% year on year to 33.71 million units.
Roborock’s intentions to branch out into wider house appliance categories are all the more bewildering given that the penetration of washing machine in China’s urban areas had reached 99.7 units per 100 households by the end of 2020, according to National Bureau of Statistics.
This apparently signaled market saturation — or over-saturation, some observers might say.
Nonetheless, industry insiders approached by media reporters said that washer-dryers currently available in the market either use condensation or heat pump technologies. Neither is considered ideal as condensation has poor effects while heat pump carries a higher sticker price.
According to sources close to Roborock, the washer-dry soon to be introduced will utilize innovative technologies other than those adopted by market incumbents.
Roborock’s own social media dropped such hints. On February 9, its official WeChat account published a post introducing so-called molecular sieve drying technology. It uses an aluminum silicate compound that is “extraordinary” at absorbing water molecules in textiles.
“A technology employing molecule sieves can absorb moisture and dry wet clothing without needing high-temperature heating,” said the post.
This post fueled conjecture that Roborock will apply this technology to its soon-to-be-unveiled product.
Roborock, founded in 2014, set up shop as an OEM manufacturer for Xiaomi (小米, HK: 1810). In September 2016, the company released a LiDAR-equipped sweeping robot under the Xiaomi brand that sold like hot cakes.
In 2017, after parting ways with Xiaomi, Roborock began to cultivate its own brand. It market share rose to 9% globally in 2020 and the company was listed on the Nasdaq-style Shanghai Star Market the same year. In 2021, its had 14% of the domestic market for sweeping robot.
Last year, Roborock’s G10S became the top-seller among all homegrown robotic sweepers in online sales, a feat that helped it surpass archrival Ecovacs (科沃斯, 603486.SH) to be the No.1 player by market share.