6 September 2009

What price innovation?

For the AGA Rangemaster Group, the answer would seem to be just under £500k.

The Group has recently bought the Mercury range cooker brand from its parent the Lincat Group for £425k. For this it acquires two very innovative range cookers: the RC 1090, a contemporary, five burner, two-oven, built-like-a-brick-outhouse, semi-industrial range cooker and, the Thermastone range seen here.

"Unique" is not a word that often springs from my keyboard, but in the case of the Thermastone range it is justified.

Designed by David Fisher for Seymourpowell, the Thermastone represents the first really original thinking in heatstore range cooking since 1922 when Nobel Prize Winner Dr Gustaf Dalen designed the first AGA range cooker.

All the Thermastone has in common with other heatstore radiators is that it stores heat. It uses silicon carbide to store the heat (not cast iron), and it has four ovens at different constant temperatures.

The two-burner gas hob and a huge, electrically heated griddle cum hotplate are controlled by throttle-like twist grips. These are built into the front rail that runs the full width of the range cooker and work like the throttle on a motorcycle.

It also looks very modern, a charge that could never be levied at an AGA.

AGA Rangemaster's swoop on Mercury makes sense for both companies. Lincat gets out of a market it was only ever going to be a niche player in, AGA Rangemaster further strengthens its position at the top of the range cooker tree, and now has a group product to offer those consumers that like the idea of a heatstore range cooker but would like something designed for this century rather than the last.

Is there a downside? Possibly. Lincat was brave enough to give Seymourpowell a free hand with both Mercury range cookers and while some of the design tweaks on its RC1090 are not immediately obvious, even the blind Dr Dalen would recognise the ingenious design of David Fisher's Thermastone.

AGA Rangemaster has promised extensions to the Mercury range in 2010, but will it be so brave on the design front? If its previous track record on the design front is anything to go by, this does look unlikely.

Personally, I'd put my money on a Rangemaster in Mercury clothing rather than another reinvention of the wheel.

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