Haier Group (search), the top Chinese appliance maker, and private equity giants Bain Capital and Blackstone Group have bid $1.28 billion for Maytag Corp. (MYG), topping Ripplewood Holdings LLC's offer for the U.S. washer maker.

Haier's global ambitions would be boosted by adding Maytag, which also makes Hoover vacuums and Amana and Jenn-Air appliances. Maytag has fallen on tough times amid rising raw material costs and competition from lower-cost makers.

Maytag shares rose 6 percent on Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange.

"Haier would get an instant credible product line," said Longbow Research analyst David MacGregor. "Longer term that could make them a competitive force to be reckoned with."

"We continue to support the Ripplewood transaction," Howard Clark, Maytag's lead director, said in a statement. "However, we also believe that it is incumbent on us to pursue this possibility of achieving a higher price for our stockholders."

Maytag said in the statement issued late Monday in New York it had received a preliminary bid of $16 a share from a consortium made up of Haier, Bain and Blackstone.

That would be about 14 percent higher than a $14 per share offer by a consortium that includes Ripplewood Holdings (search), Goldman Sachs' (GS) GS Capital Partners and J. Rothschild Group.

MacGregor, based in Cleveland, said a higher offer could top the bid by the Haier group, whether from Ripplewood, the U.S. private equity firm, or another party. "There's still room to beat this bid," he said.

Under the Haier proposal, due diligence is expected to take six to eight weeks, Maytag said in its statement. The group would look to Merrill Lynch to provide debt financing, it added.

No official counteroffer has been submitted yet, a source familiar with the matter told Reuters. Bain and Blackstone declined to comment. Haier has said it was interested in Maytag, but a spokeswoman would not comment further on Tuesday.

Analysts said Haier would be quickly buying brand recognition. "Chinese companies don't have brand equity outside of China," said a Tokyo-based analyst who declined to be identified.

"To build that themselves, in the same way the Toyotas of the world do it, is pretty hard. It's the intangible assets they're buying."

Their competing bid would also mark the first major attempt at an international acquisition by Haier, a state conglomerate that controls Shanghai-listed Qingdao Haier Refrigerator Co. Ltd. and Hong Kong-listed Haier Electronics Group Co. Ltd.

Haier is probably willing to pay a premium for Maytag because it could keep the company over the longer term for its brand, while Ripplewood would more likely sell in the long run, the Tokyo analyst said. Haier currently sells lower-priced appliances in the United States, and adding Maytag would greatly strengthen its product offering.

Ripplewood, established in 1995, manages more than $10 billion in capital and invests in wide range of sectors.

The consortium, which includes the Haier America Trading LLC unit, had expressed its interest in the run-up to a deadline last Friday for competing offers.

Maytag stock was up 95 cents to $16.17. Shares have gained about 5 percent since word first emerged last week that Haier and others might make rival bids. The 52-week high is $25.30.

Haier is a well-known name in China, commanding 26 percent of the domestic refrigerator market and 17 percent of the air conditioning market at the end of 2003.

It is also one of China's few brands to make headway in foreign markets, cornering nearly half the U.S. compact refrigerator market and more than half that for wine coolers.

Haier's foray would follow similar moves by some of China's biggest firms that have looked beyond domestic strongholds.

Generally, Chinese companies have picked up struggling businesses in mature industries, hoping to use their growing prowess as low-cost manufacturers to turn the assets around.

Earlier this year, Lenovo Group Ltd. bought the PC-making unit of International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) for $1.25 billion. It later brought in private equity firms Texas Pacific Group, General Atlantic LLC and Newbridge Capital LLC, which contributed $350 million to the deal.

TCL Corp has been active, buying the cell phone making assets of France's Alcatel SA and the TV-making assets of France's Thomson.

But there have been some stumbles, including an aborted takeover of struggling British carmaker MG Rover by top car maker Shanghai Automotive Industry Corp.

Oil company CNOOC Ltd. has expressed interest in U.S. oil company Unocal Corp. (UCL), and China's Minmetals Corp. has considered Canadian mining firm Noranda Inc.