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Apple recalls 1.8 million laptop batteries. But who's next? And what about UK-based laptop makers?

by Bob Crabtree on 25 August 2006, 13:19

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As expected, Dell's massive recall of laptop batteries was only the start. A number of other firms that use Sony info-lithium cells in their PCs' batteries are also going to have to swap them out and the first to do so is Apple, with a recall of around 1.8 million batteries - 700K of them outside the USA. At-risk Macs are 15in PowerBook G4s and 12in iBook G4s and PowerBook G4s sold worldwide between October 2003 and August 2006.

Clearly, as also seemed likely at the outset, the final cost to Sony of this debacle is going to be massive.

There's been talk of a few hundred millions dollars but we could readily see the total bill going far higher if Sony has to front up not just for replacements but also for administrative and handling charges incurred by laptop makers.

It could also skyrocket if the costs of any class-action suits in the USA directed at laptop makers end up being passed on to Sony or are aimed at Sony itself - though, as yet, we've not heard of any having been started.

Like Dell's recall, Apple's is said to be voluntary and has been brokered with the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. And, like Dell, Apple has made a half-hearted attempt to make its recall prominent by adding a link at the bottom of its various sites' home pages.

Even though the Dell and Apple recalls are reckoned to be voluntary, we tend to think that US Consumer Product Safety Commission made the companies offers they couldn't refuse. And, now that the CPSC has got the bit between its teeth and cast its net wider to investigate Sony-sourced laptop battery cells generally, you can expect to hear of other PC makers deciding voluntarily to issue recalls.

The good news for UK laptop users is that any such recalls are - like Dell's and Apple's - likely to put pressure on makers to run replacement schemes outside of the USA.

The seriously bad news is that, as best as we can tell, there's no government body in the UK addressing safety issues with local laptop makers that might have used Sony info-lithium technology in their batteries.

Primary responsibility lies with local authority Trading Standards departments in England, Scotland and Wales and Local Authority Environmental Health Officers in Northern Ireland but don't kid yourself that these decentralised departments are on top of incendiary battery problems or any other safety issues.

Indeed, in the absence of a UK equivalent of the US CPSC, we're struggling to find any part of government - local or national - that's giving any consideration to the subject of self-lighting batteries. Our ongoing attempts will, we reckon, make for an interesting, if rather worrying, news story.

In the USA, the Consumer Product Safety Commission is charged with protecting the public from unreasonable risks of serious injury or death from more than 15,000 types of product. What we in the UK need is the creation of an equivalent upfront national consumer-safety body.

Upfront? Well, take a look at this extract from the footnote on the US CPSC's Apple-battery recall notice - which also suggest that the reader emails it to friends - and you'll see what we mean:

Deaths, injuries and property damage from consumer product incidents cost the nation more than $700 billion annually. The CPSC is committed to protecting consumers and families from products that pose a fire, electrical, chemical, or mechanical hazard or can injure children.

The CPSC's work to ensure the safety of consumer products - such as toys, cribs, power tools, cigarette lighters, and household chemicals - contributed significantly to the 30 percent decline in the rate of deaths and injuries associated with consumer products over the past 30 years.

To report a dangerous product or a product-related injury, call CPSC's hotline at (800) 638-2772 or CPSC's teletypewriter at (800) 638-8270, or visit CPSC's web site at http://www.cpsc.gov/talk.html. To join a CPSC email subscription list, please go to http://www.cpsc.gov/cpsclist.asp. Consumers can obtain this release and recall information at CPSC's Web site at http://www.cpsc.gov.


Update - August 25, 18:50

Apple UK has sent us a brief statement about the recall and Sony UK has sent us a different statement issued yesterday by Sony USA.

The one from Apple, says simply,

We discovered that some Sony batteries in previous models of PowerPC based iBooks and PowerBooks do not meet Apple's standards for safety and performance. None of Apple's Intel-based notebooks are affected, only certain models of previous iBooks and PowerBooks. Our number one priority is to recall and replace the affected batteries free of charge. Complete details regarding the exchange program can be found at http://support.apple.com/batteryprogram/ .

We do not anticipate this recall to have a material financial impact on Apple.

Sony's statement is somewhat longer (it's carried in full on page two) and contains one rather ambiguous claim and another that's rather surprising. The first is that,

At this time, Sony anticipates no further recalls of battery packs using these particular battery cells.

Trouble is, that sentence has a number of possible interpretations. It could mean that Apple was the only company to use the battery cells referred to or could meant that Apple and Dell were the only ones.

What's more important is that the sentence does not mean that Sony has ruled out recalls for any other type of battery cells it's made, even though you could read that very positive spin into it.

The surprise comes in Sony's estimate of the cost that it's likely to incur as a result of the Dell and Apple recalls. The statement says,

Sony currently estimates that the overall cost to Sony in supporting the recall programs of Apple and Dell will amount to between 20 billion yen and 30 billion yen. This overall cost is an estimate based on the costs of replacement battery packs and any other related costs to be incurred by Sony.

Those two figures equate to between roughly US170 million and $255 million. That's between £90 million and £135 million. So, Sony is saying that it will cost £15 to £23 to replace each battery pack.

That strikes us as highly optimistic given that that Apple - just like Dell before it - reckons that the recall won't have any material impact on its own finances, implying that Sony is going to have to pick up a whole lot more than just the cost of the batteries themselves.


Thoughts? Share them with us in this thread in the HEXUS.lifestyle news forum.

HEXUS.links

HEXUS.community :: discussion thread about this article
HEXUS.lifestyle.headlines :: Dell recalls 4.1 million notebook batteries worldwide
HEXUS.lifestyle.headlines :: Oz airline tells Dell owners to whip 'em out and tape 'em up

External.links

US Consumer Product Safety Commission - Apple Announces Recall of Batteries Used in Previous iBook and PowerBook Computers Due To Fire Hazard
Apple - Battery Exchange Program iBook G4 and PowerBook G4
Apple - FAQ - Battery Exchange Program iBook G4 and PowerBook G4
Dell USA - Battery Recall page