Fires stop with Apple and Dell, insists Sony

After two massive recalls of batteries using its technology, Sony says no other PC company is affected.

Tom Krazit Former Staff writer, CNET News
Tom Krazit writes about the ever-expanding world of Google, as the most prominent company on the Internet defends its search juggernaut while expanding into nearly anything it thinks possible. He has previously written about Apple, the traditional PC industry, and chip companies. E-mail Tom.
Tom Krazit
3 min read
Sony and PC makers scrambled on Thursday to reassure customers that the latest battery recall involving Apple Computer would be the last.

Of course, that's exactly the same thing they said last week after Dell announced it was recalling 4.1 million batteries that could short-circuit and cause a fire. Just about every major PC company uses Sony's battery cells in a portion of their notebook batteries. Those cells have been the subject of intense scrutiny after Dell's recall was followed by Apple's Thursday announcement that it was recalling 1.8 million batteries.

Sony believes the battery cell problems are confined to Dell and Apple, Rick Clancy, a Sony spokesman, said Thursday. Last week, however, Clancy insisted that no other PC company had reported the level of incidents that Dell had seen.

Dell said it had received reports of six incidents involving the batteries, according to a press release from the Consumer Products Safety Commission last week. On Thursday, Apple reported that it had received nine reports of incidents, including two involving minor injuries. Dell is the world's largest PC maker, with much higher shipment levels than Apple.

On Thursday, Clancy said that Sony and the various PC companies have exchanged information on the defective battery cells and the implementation of those cells in various notebooks, and Sony now believes Dell and Apple are the only companies that will have to recall batteries.

Not surprisingly, the other PC makers agreed.

Hewlett-Packard "has no plans to recall notebook battery packs in conjunction with either the Aug. 24, 2006 Apple notebook battery recall or the Aug. 14, 2006 Dell notebook battery recall. HP has been in contact with Sony, the manufacturer of the battery cells in question, and Sony has communicated that HP should not be impacted by these recalls," HP said in a statement.

Gateway said, "Based on available information and our suppliers' input, we do not believe our systems are at risk for the same malfunctions that caused our competitors to issue battery recalls. It appears that a combination of factors led to the fault requiring the recalls, and this combination is not present in our systems. Gateway notebooks use different battery cells than those implicated in our competitor's recalls."

Acer said, "(We) have been told by Sony that the batteries we use are not ones that will be affected" by the problematic cells.

Lenovo provided a little more detail, saying that while it uses the same Sony battery cells, it relies on a different technique for packaging and charging the cells. Sony assured Lenovo that its technology was implemented differently than Apple's or Dell's, a company representative said.

It's unclear exactly how long Sony has known about the problems with its battery cells. Sony told Infoworld last week that it first had a conversation with Dell about the problem in October 2005, and another conversation followed in February 2006, after which Sony made changes to its manufacturing process. Clancy refused to confirm those dates to CNET News.com on Thursday.

Sony is also refusing to state when it knew Apple would be affected by the defective battery cells. An Apple representative likewise declined to comment on when Apple began discussing the problem with Sony.

It's far from clear whether this battery saga is over. Two reports of smoking or flaming batteries on Sony laptops surfaced this week, one reported by a Kansas City television station and one, via e-mail, by a CNET News.com reader. Sony's Clancy said based on his preliminary information, it appeared the Kansas City incident involved a counterfeit battery, but he declined to specify how the company knew that.