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Fri 6 Oct 2006 04:00 PM

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Three more vendors recall Sony lithium-ion batteries

Toshiba, Lenovo and Fujitsu follow Apple and Dell

Already labelled one of the largest ever electronics product recalls in history, the Sony battery saga reached legendary proportions last month with three more notebook vendors joining the ranks of firms pulling the Japanese electronics giant’s lithium-ion batteries.

Toshiba, Lenovo and Fujitsu have all announced they are voluntarily recalling a combined total of over 1.3 million batteries manufactured by Sony, and Dell has said it is recalling an additional 100,000 on top of the 4.1 million batteries it began replacing back in August.

Including the 1.8 million notebook batteries that Apple has said it will replace, the total number of Sony batteries recalled now stands at over 7.3 million. And there could still be more to follow.

HP and Sony itself also use the Japanese firm’s batteries and neither has yet initiated a recall of their notebooks.

The odds of this happening increased substantially last month after Sony effectively conceded defeat in its efforts

to limit the scale of the damage to its business and launched a global replacement programme for certain battery packs.

“We believe that this programme is in the best interest of both our customers and all consumers,” Sony said in a statement.

The problem with the batteries occurs when, in rare circumstances, tiny metal particles in the battery cells come into contact with other parts of the battery cell, leading to a short circuit within the cell.

Sony said that normally when this happens a battery back will simply power off, but under certain conditions – which can be affected by variations in the configurations in different notebooks – the short circuit can lead to the cell overheating and setting itself alight.

The financial impact on Sony will undoubtedly be huge, but the vendor has been tight-lipped about how much it expects the battery crisis to cost.

Previously, Sony had estimated the cost of the combined Apple and Dell recalls could be as high as US$250million, but analysts put the figure at between US$200million and US$300million for the Dell recall alone.

The latest spate of recalls came after a Lenovo ThinkPad notebook began emitting smoke and sparks while being carried onto an aircraft at Los Angeles International airport earlier this month.

The problem was serious enough that a fire extinguisher had to be used to subdue the malfunctioning notebook.

Following this incident, Lenovo, IBM and the safety commission announced on September 28 the recall of 526,000 ThinkPad batteries sold since February last year.

Sony launched its replacement programme the same day.

The very next day Toshiba, who had already announced the recall of 340,000 Sony batteries a few weeks earlier for a separate flaw, extended this to 830,000, Fujitsu announced the recall of an unspecified number of batteries and Dell extended its recall to 4.2 million.

Both Fujitsu and Toshiba have been at pains to point out that there is no danger of their notebooks overheating.

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