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Can the hoverboard be saved? A new plan heats up

More than 100 Chinese manufacturers are banding together in an attempt to clean up the reputation of the beleaguered self-balancing scooter.

Hoverboard on fire
Chinese hoverboard makers are hoping their product isn't yet toast.
Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

Hoverboards were hot items over the holidays -- for all the wrong reasons.

The popular self-balancing scooters grabbed headlines after reports that some had the unhealthy tendency to overheat and burst into flames. Last month, the US Consumer Product Safety Commission found all hoverboards unsafe, saying they pose an "unreasonable risk of fire."

Soon after, Amazon, Toys "R" Us, Target and other retailers pulled the products from their stores. The federal watchdog said hoverboards will need to go through voluntary safety standards, which cover everything from a board's battery to labeling, to be deemed safe again. All of that would suggest that the hoverboard fad may already be over.

Don't tell that to the hundreds of Chinese companies that make and sell hoverboards. More than 100 of them have teamed up to create a new trade group with the intent of cleaning up the industry, Quartz reported Monday. The new Hoverboard Industry Alliance, which formed officially in January, met last week to hammer out safety and patent standards for hoverboards, the publication said.

It's hard to tell, though, whether the new group can help win back the trust of retailers and customers and thus make hoverboards a top seller again. When the scooters became a popular gift during the holidays, many Chinese manufacturers rushed to fulfill the huge demand. In the haste to make a sale, though, many of the hoverboards shipped out featured shoddy workmanship and lacked safety certifications. The result was a rash of reports of hoverboard fires and even explosions.

Hoverboard sales have plunged, and Chinese manufacturers that make the scooters have been stuck holding large inventories in the US that they can't sell. China has more than 500 factories producing hoverboards, with manufacturers exporting about $4.6 billion in hoverboards, Quartz reported.

The CPSC said last month that hoverboards need to be certified safe by Underwriters Laboratories, a widely used independent testing firm, and meet United Nations requirements for lithium-ion battery products. UL began accepting hoverboards for testing in February, but has not certified any boards yet.

The new Chinese hoverboard group plans to talk regularly with UL and the CPSC to work out better standards for its industry.

Whether the hoverboard can ever balance itself out remains to be seen.