Lenovo to Recall Sony Batteries Used in ThinkPad Notebooks

 
 
By John G. Spooner  |  Posted 2006-09-28
 
 
 

Lenovo Group will voluntarily recall hundreds of thousands of notebook battery packs containing faulty Sony lithium-ion battery packs, citing a fire hazard, the Raleigh, N.C.-based company announced Sept. 28.

Lenovo will offer to replace 526,000 ThinkPad battery packs, worldwide, in ThinkPad T Series, R Series and X Series notebooks, sold between Feb. 2005 and Sept. 2006, the company said in a statement.

By issuing the recall with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Lenovo joins Dell and Apple Computers in recalling notebook battery packs that contained the faulty Sony battery cells.

The recalls have shaken the fast-growing notebook market and caused some to ask whether or not consumers might lose confidence in portable PCs.

To try and counter those doubts, Apple, Dell and now Lenovo have made efforts to make their customers laptops whole and safe again.

The PC maker, which has been working with the CPSC since taking possession of a ThinkPad that caught fire in Los Angeles, decided to issue the recall in the interests of its customers, a company spokesperson told eWEEK.

"Our number one priority here is public safety, and thats why were doing this recall," said Ray Gorman, a spokesperson for Lenovo in Raleigh.

Lenovo and the CPSC announced the recall on the same day that Sony issued a statement saying that it would soon begin a global replacement program for its faulty battery packs.

"Sony Corporation will initiate a global replacement program for certain battery packs that utilize Sony-manufactured lithium ion cells used by notebook computer manufacturers in order to address concern related to recent over-heating incidents," the company, which is based Tokyo, said in a statement.

Sony is discussing its plans with the CPSC and said it would release details about the program later.

The latest recall started earlier in September, when a IBM ThinkPad T43 notebook caught fire at Los Angeles International Airport.

While there were no injuries, Lenovo, which purchased IBMs PC group in May 2005, obtained the notebook and began an investigation.

What is Dell doing to help customers with its battery recall? Click here to read more.

Engineers found that the battery pack contained Sony battery cells of the same type that have been involved in overheating incidents and fires reported by Dell and Apple, a spokesperson later told eWEEK.

The latest recall dwarfs previous announcements of the 4.1 million batteries recalled by Dell on Aug. 14 and the recall of 1.8 million battery packs by Apple on Aug. 24.

Scott Wolfson, a CPSC spokesperson, said Lenovo and IBM—the original maker of the ThinkPad—"very quickly reported to our agency after the incident at LAX."

Wolfson urged IBM ThinkPad users to check the batteries on the notebooks. He added that notebooks that have the faulty batteries could still be run on AC power until replacements arrive.

What are PC makers doing to try to improve battery cell safety? Click here to read more.

Sony is going to financially support the recall as well, Gorman said. Wolfson declined to comment about Sonys announcement to recall the faulty battery packs.

All three computer makers—Apple, Dell and Lenovo—have said that users can have their batteries replaced free of charge.

The Sony batteries were used in a number of ThinkPad notebook models, including the T43, T43p, T60, R51e, R52, R60, R60e, X60 and the X60s.

The CPSC has listed all the model numbers that could potentially pose a danger.

Although the number of units affected by the recall is statistically small—it affects about 6 percent of the units Lenovo shipped during the time of the recall—the PC maker appears to be trying to do the right thing, said Richard Shim, an analyst at IDC in San Mateo, Calif.

"I think a lot of the companies are wanting to do the right thing. It obviously takes them a little while to figure out what to do [and] whats best for their business," Shim said.

"But when you have an event thats very high-profile — like that event in Los Angeles—thats going to speed up the events that are already in motion."

Shim reasons that events such as the recent spat of battery recalls could cause ripples in the notebook market.

"You have events like this that show up on the evening news and people start asking themselves, Is this something I want to buy?" Shim said.

However, the impact appears somewhat muted at the moment. Shim said that there has been a relatively few customers requesting replacement batteries from Dell and Apple.

Lenovos recall places the company in a somewhat more awkward position than those of Apple and Dell. The company originally said it was not affected by Sony cell-making glitches.

Lenovo and Hewlett-Packard each said they had used Sony battery cells, but said they were confident that they would avoid similar problems because their designs use different charging and battery protection schemes.

The Sony batteries can cause problems when, on occasion, microscopic particles in the battery cells come into contact with other parts of the battery cell. This could lead to a short circuit within the cell.

"Typically, a battery pack will simply power off when a cell short-circuit occurs," according to statements by Sony.

"However, under certain rare conditions, an internal short circuit may lead to cell overheating and potentially flames. The potential for this to occur can be affected by variations in the system configurations found in different notebook computers," the company said.

HP continues to maintain that it has experienced no problems with Sony battery cells. However, it does use some Sony-made cells in some of its notebooks, a company spokesperson told eWEEK recently.

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