Dell expands battery recall by 100,000; Fujitsu considers action

The problems affect battery packs with Sony-made lithium-ion cells

Dell Inc. has increased by 100,000 the number of laptop batteries it is recalling due to a potential fire hazard, while Toshiba Corp. said it will take part in a voluntary battery replacement program Sony Corp. kicked off yesterday. Fujitsu Ltd. indicated that it is also considering a voluntary recall.

Dell said it received new information that prompted it to increase its recall to 4.2 million batteries from 4.1 million. It urged customers to visit and to recheck their batteries to see if they are affected. The site has received almost 200 million hits since the recall was first announced in August, Dell said.

The problems affect battery packs containing Sony-made lithium-ion cells. Sony has discovered that metallic particles in the cells created during the manufacturing process could cause a short circuit. That short circuit could in turn result in a fire, depending on the way the laptop is designed.

While the affected notebooks from Dell and Apple Computer Inc., which has recalled 1.8 million batteries, pose a potential fire hazard, Toshiba said its laptops are not in danger of catching fire. It said it was recalling the batteries voluntarily to ease concerns among customers.

Toshiba offered to replace 830,000 laptop batteries, including some of its popular Satellite and Portege models. Fujitsu indicated that it is also likely to join the voluntary recall, although details were not announced.

Toshiba, and possibly Fujitsu, are taking advantage of a program announced by Sony, which said it would conduct a battery-replacement program in conjunction with laptop makers worldwide.

One day earlier, Lenovo Group Ltd. added its name to the list of manufacturers recalling Sony-made battery packs, saying it will recall 526,000 laptop batteries.

Other laptop makers are expected to follow suit and offer new batteries to their customers, said Takashi Uehara, a spokesman for Sony in Tokyo.

The plan might reassure consumers but will also increase the cost to Sony of the problems.

In late August, Sony said it would incur costs of between $170 million and $255 million, but that was only for the recalls announced by Dell and Apple. Sony has not updated investors since then.

Its battery problems began last October when Dell approached the company about a possible problem involving Sony lithium-ion cells used in battery packs in Dell laptops.

Sony changed its manufacturing process to lessen the chance of metallic particles being left in its products, but it wasn't until August -- after several well-publicized cases of Dell laptops catching fire -- that Dell began recalling batteries.

Apple followed on Aug. 25 with its own recall of 1.8 million batteries, and then this week Lenovo joined the list. Together, the recalls that cite a potential fire hazard total about 6.5 million battery packs.

Separately, Toshiba last week offered to exchange 340,000 Sony notebook batteries, but not because of a fire hazard. Instead, the defective batteries could unexpectedly cut power to the notebooks, causing users to lose unsaved work, the company said. 

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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